Guidelines for Student Organization Records

University Archives seeks to document student life and experiences at Penn State, collecting the records of the extensive and diverse student groups across the campus. With the help of many student groups and alumni we already hold rich documentation of early student life and groups from the early 20th century, and now strive to collect the records of student organization records that are currently active or were active in the second half of the 20th century. Of specific interest are those involved in political and social activism and students representing historically marginalized communities.

Evaluating Records

When evaluating your records, it is important to consider the following questions:

  • Does this record impact the understanding of your organization, its mission, and its role within the Penn State community?
  • Would this record be of interest to future organization members, students, or researchers?
  • Does this record relate to other documents your organization knows it will maintain?
  • If the answer is yes to any of these questions, then it should be considered for retention.

As you are reviewing your organization’s records, remember:

When in doubt, don’t throw it out! Keep the record and contact the University Archivist for guidance.

What to Keep

The following types of records (hard copy or digital) are generally what hold enduring or historical value to student organizations:

  • founding documents
  • constitutions and by-laws
  • meeting minutes and agendas
  • member handbooks
  • publications produced by your organization, such as newsletters
  • membership lists and registers
  • correspondence and memos
  • organizational histories and self-studies
  • annual budgets and reports
  • scrapbooks and photographs of the group, members, meetings, and events (identified subjects are ideal)
  • audio-visual recordings of group events
  • event flyers, posters and promotional materials
  • event planning files
  • research or subject files
  • certificates of recognition
  • artifacts (buttons, t-shirts, pins and other jewelry, uniforms, and other items used to carry out the missions and activities of the organization)

What Not to Keep

  • artifacts like trophies or award plaques
  • records of specific financial and membership transactions (except summary and audit reports), receipts, bank statements, and canceled checks
  • papers and drafts of anything that has been published
  • PII & FERPA: Documents containing personal information such as social security numbers, passport and visa numbers, account and personal financial information, grades, GPA, etc.

Organization of Your Records

  • Materials should be arranged in the way that best suits your group’s activities and needs. Label clearly with dates, events, and names.
  • Create an inventory. If you wish to donate your materials to University Archives, an inventory will be helpful in the transfer process.

Storing Your Records

  • Assign a “historian” or “secretary” role to maintain records.
  • Keep materials in a centralized place.
  • Store away from the elements: sun, excessive heat, moisture/dampness.
  • Maintain a clean storage area so that no dust or critters make their way to your records.

General Guidelines for Managing your Electronic Records

Electronic/Digital records, like email, photographs, etc., have become a large component of organizations’ files. Much like their paper counterparts, though, there are steps you can take to preserve these records and make them accessible to future members.

  • DO NOT store electronic records in your University email or Box account. These will be deactivated once you leave Penn State and the records will disappear. Instead, you can maintain an email account specific to your organization or position within the organization and archive emails and documents there. This email address can then be passed down to the new officers each year. Services like Gmail also provide cloud storage (Google Drive) that allow document sharing and editing among several users.
  • DO decide what formats you would like to store your records in and be consistent. For text files .txt is ideal, but if you need to maintain formatting within a text document then save the file as a PDF. For large images, like digital photos, .tiff is the best format; however, many graphics are created as .jpg and can be maintained in that format.
  • DO organize your electronic files just as you would your paper records. That means like items, such as meeting minutes, should be kept in their own folder and clearly labeled. Create a standardized way of naming your organization's files so that members can quickly locate and identify the records they are looking for.
    • Example file name: THON-Spring2019.jpg; Membership-List-2018.pdf
  • DO store your electronic files in multiple places. For example, if you are utilizing cloud storage to maintain your organization's records you should also store the same records on a hard drive, CD, flash drive, or other portable media. However, portable media are relatively unstable and become obsolete rather quickly (remember floppy disks?) and so an external hard drive, which is relatively inexpensive, can offer a more stable storage solution.

Donating to University Archives

Before making the final decision to donate your records, notify your organization’s membership about your archiving plans and get everyone on board. If needed, we can arrange a visit to the archives and meet with the group to answer questions.

Then, if your organization agrees to donate its historical records to the University Archives, contact the University Archivist for instructions, guidance, and supplies, like boxes.

In most cases the following steps will facilitate the donation of your group’s records:

  1. The University Archivist will meet with you to discuss your organization’s records and learn about your group’s mission and activities. Based on the evaluation process detailed above, as well as the Special Collections Library Collection Development Plan, we will determine what is best suited for donation to the archives.
  2. Pack your records into boxes provided by the University Archives. Each box should be numbered and labeled with your organization’s name.
  3. Create an inventory of every file in each box. The University Archivist can provide a template. Email a copy of the inventory to the University Archivist and place a printed copy of each box’s inventory inside the box so it can be identified should it be separated from the others.
  4. Notify the University Archivist when you are ready to transfer the records to arrange pick-up.

The organization’s president will also be asked to sign an agreement finalizing the donation of the records to the University Archives. This document, called a Deed of Gift, will legally transfer the ownership and rights of the records to the University Archives. Every Deed of Gift is different and we will work with your organization to determine what provisions are right for you.

Donating your organization's records should not be a one-time event. The end of each academic year is a great time to review your group's records and determine what might be eligible for inclusion in the archives.

Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions! Send inquiries to:

Ben Goldman
Interim University Archivist



Adopted from:

Brodt, Zachary. “Student Organization Records Toolkit (SORT) @ Pitt Archives.” University of Pittsburgh. Last modified October 5, 2017. Accessed July 2019. 

Thompson, George, Baldivia, Stefani, and Pamela Kruger. “Chico State Student Organizations Archive.” Meriam Library, Cal State University, Chico. Last modified April 30, 2018. Accessed July 2019.