RUSA Guidelines for Establishing Local History Collections

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Developed by the Local History Committee of the History Section, Reference and Adult Services Association, American Library Association, June 1979. Reaffirmed by the Reference and Adult Services Division Board of Directors, January 1993. Revised 2005, and approved January 2006 by the Reference and User Services Association Board of Directors. [Revised, approved by History Section Executive Committee, and sent to RUSA Standards and Guidelines Committee (March 2012).]  Revised and approved by RUSA Board, May 2012.


These guidelines are intended to assist librarians in establishing local history collections. In surveying the literature about the collecting of local materials it is apparent that many have already written about the use and the maintenance of the various media employed in local history.


1.0 Considerations before making a commitment to developing a local history collection

1.1 Research and understand the history that is unique to the locality.

1.2 Establish and maintain a dialog between local institutions (museums, academic libraries, local archives), societies (both genealogical and historical), and agencies (county, city, and state). Consider what is currently being collected, what services are needed, to what depth such collections are being developed, and what collaborative or cooperative agreements are needed. Determine the most suitable repository for particular materials with respect to use, dissemination, and preservation.

2.0 Scope and Services of the Collection

2.1 Identify the focus and depth of the collection. Limiting factors may include geography, format, and space within the repository.

2.2 Identify the range of services that will be provided, onsite and remotely.

3.0 Collection Development

3.1 Write an acquisitions policy for collecting local history materials.

3.2 State the intended geographic collection area.

3.3 Describe those materials desired by the institution and the extent to which they will be collected.

3.4 Describe the formats to be collected.

3.5 Identify the types of materials that will not be collected by the institution. Other institutions may be better equipped to handle a given type of material. Some items may not be accepted due to preservation issues.

3.6 Identify those subject areas which will be acquired only on a cooperative basis.

3.7 Write a policy on acceptance of materials through gifts and bequests. Include forms for "deeds of gift". See the Society of American Archivists web page for detailed guidelines.

3.8 Write a policy on de-accessioning that is in keeping with the overall policy of the institution. Bear in mind policies already established by other professional organizations. [See for de-accessioning guidelines.]

4.0 Collection Location and Access

4.1 Establish the local history collection in an identifiable place in the library, separate from other collections.

  1. Create a separate area on the library's web page for the local history collection.
  2. Digitize fragile items for access on the local history webpage.

4.2 Provide an environment that is conducive to the preservation of materials.

4.3 Designate a secure space for the local history collection with proper provisions for monitoring materials.

4.4 Provide a clear and visible access policy.

4.5 Provide equipment and workspace sufficient to use the collection.

4.6 Utilize professional staff to collect, process, maintain and provide access to the local history collection. Professionals may be assisted by trained paraprofessionals and volunteers.

4.7 Understand copyright implications that may affect access.

5.0 Fiscal Considerations

5.1 Provide a budget for staffing the collection.

5.2 Provide a budget sufficient to acquire, process, and preserve the local history collection.

5.3 Provide a budget for physical and bibliographic access to the collection.

5.4 Provide a budget for reproduction, reformatting, and/or digitization of rare and fragile materials.

5.5 Provide a budget for public relations.

5.6 Develop a policy for a reproduction fee schedule.


Balloffet, Nelly and Jenny Hille. Preservation and Conservation for Libraries and Archives. Chicago: American Library Association, 2005.

Carvalho, Joseph. "Organizing a Local History Collection in a Small Public Library." Library Quarterly, v. 8 no. 1-2 (1987-1988) p. 109-18.

Cox, Richard. Documenting Localities: A Practical Model for American Archivists and Manuscript Curators. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1996.

Finch, Elise Freeman. Advocating Archives: An Introduction to Public Relations for Archivists. Lanham, Md.: The Society of American Archivists and the Scarecrow Press, 2003.

Hackbart-Dean, Pam and Elizabeth Slomba. Processing Decisions for Manuscripts and Archives. Washington, D.C.: Association of Research Libraries, 2009

Harden, Johanna Jaeggli. "Saving the Past for the Future! Part 1: Deciding What to Save for a Local History Collection." Colorado Libraries, v. 27 no. 4 (Winter 2001) p. 43-4.

Harden, Johanna Jaeggli. "Saving the Past for the Future! Deciding What to Save, Part 2: Preserving What Is Saved." Colorado Libraries, v. 29 no. 3 (Fall 2003) p. 44-6.

Kurtz, Michael J. Managing Archival and Manuscript Repositories. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2004.

Kyving, David E. and Myron A. Marty.  Nearby History: Exploring the Past Around You.  Lanham, Md. : Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.

Marquis, Kathy, and Leslie C. Waggener.  “Historical Collections: Is Adding One Right for Your Public Library?”  Public Libraries 50, no. 2 (March 2011): 42-48.     

North Carolina Library Association. "Establishing and Maintaining a Local History Collection." North Carolina Libraries, v. 46 (Summer 1988) p. 70-84+

Ogden, Sherelyn, ed. Preservation of Library & Archival Materials: A Manual. Andover, Mass.: Northeast Document Conservation Center, 1999.

Phillips, Faye. Local History Collections in Libraries. Englewood, Colo. : Libraries Unlimited, 1995.

American Association for State and Local History book series, various titles. (