Identifying and Handling University Records

Archivists at Harvard may encounter University records in a few different contexts:

  • You may be contacted by a department seeking assistance transferring their records to one of the repositories responsible for managing their archives
  • You may discover departmental or other University records in your holdings as part of legacy collections, and
  • You may find University records embedded within manuscript collections, particularly Harvard faculty collections.

Identifying university records:

All libraries and archival repositories must identify and responsibly handle Harvard University records. By a Harvard Corporation vote of 1995, University records “include all forms of recorded information regardless of physical characteristics, created, received, recorded, or legally filed in the course of University business or in pursuance of the University's legal obligations.”


Examples of University records may include:

  • University governance and committee records (agendas, minutes, reports, etc.)
  • Records of University officers, deans, etc. (correspondence, including email, etc.)
  • Student records (applications, letters of recommendation, grades, etc.)
  • Grant applications (pubic or privately funded, may hold privileged personnel and budget information)
  • Personnel records
  • Financial records

It is not uncommon for those who donate materials to an archives or manuscript repository, particularly faculty or their heirs, to be unaware that some of the materials they are donating may be personal copies of University records, access to which are determined by the University and not the donor. Curators and processing archivists who discover University records among their holdings should make themselves familiar with Harvard’s General Records Schedule (GRS) for guidance on identifying University records and their associated retention schedules, disposition guidelines (including destruction guidelines), and restriction requirements. Not all University records are in paper formats with special attention needed in assessing audio-visual (for example, recordings of internal meetings, faculty meetings, student auditions, etc.) and electronic records.


Managing University records:

Regardless of whether they appear in stand-alone records series or are embedded within manuscript collections, Harvard University records have particular management requirements above and beyond any restriction required by donors. University records are either subject to 50 or 80 year restrictions depending on their content. In some cases, records may be candidates for destruction according to the GRS. When University records are encountered, whether as part of acquisitions or processing work, curators and processing archivists should consult with the staff of Records Management Services at the Harvard University Archives (HUA) or their local institutional archives (see below) to determine proper disposition. In some cases, University records may need to be destroyed to prevent any undue risk to the University.


There are three current institutional archives at Harvard officially charged with managing University records:


  • Baker Library Special Collections
    • Manages the archives of the Harvard Business School
  • Center for the History of Medicine, Countway Library
    • Manages the archives of the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and T. H. Chan School of Public Health
  • Harvard University Archives, Records Management Services
    • Manages University records from all other Harvard schools/units as well as the records of all units of the Central Administration


In addition, the Schlesinger Library maintains the official records of Radcliffe College until the founding of the Institute on October 1,1999. As of that date, Radcliffe Institute records are managed by the Harvard University Archives.


Processing archivists working with manuscript collections that contain University records should approach these records in the following ways:


  • Large, distinguishable groups of Harvard-generated records found in manuscript collections (such as the correspondence file of a Department Chair, the records of a school’s curriculum committee, etc.) should be evaluated for possible transfer to the Harvard University Archives or to your local institutional archives. Consult with Records Management Services at HUA or your local archives for more information.


  • University records that are dispersed and interfiled throughout other manuscript materials - those that would be hard to physically separate from non-University record materials - should be maintained with the manuscript collection, but should be restricted or destroyed per GRS policies. It is imperative that these rules be taken into account before records are copied or digitized.


  • If you are unsure if the records at hand are in fact University records, please contact Records Management Services at HUA or your local archives for further guidance.