Organized Archives

Organizing the Archives

Are you organizing the archives? Church members generally agree that it’s good to save church records, however the reality of doing brings about a lot to consider. Which items should be saved, is it okay to throw some out? because a church produces such a quantity of records, and space is often limited it’s important to ask whether, where, and how these records can be safely and correctly stored, and who will do the work of collecting, sorting, and cataloging the documents?


A Committee on Church Archives should be formed. This committee should realize the process may be a very long one and once the collection is established, more records will likely be added in the future. Funding may be raised to pay for acid-free folders and boxes, professional advice, and maybe pay the person who will do the work. This committee should design a plan for finding records. Some records may already be stored in the church, but others will be found in homes, hidden away in long-forgotten boxes in basements or attics. If you notify the church members they can look in their own spaces at home to retrieve any hidden away. There will ned to be a secure “in-box” where people should place documents they want to donate and a way to label who donated them.

organizing the church archives

Editing the Collection

The Church Archive Committee or appointed person in charge can begin to sort materials already there and prepare an inventory of everything. This is where a professional organizer comes into play. S/he will make categories like: sermons, Board minutes, financial reports, Annual Meetings, misc. programs, committee minutes, correspondence, youth programs, building and grounds or newspaper articles.

Once the papers are sorted by category, the documents can be arranged by date or another method that the church decides. The process of editing categories will involve decisions about whether to toss some items. Original letters should never be thrown out, but if you have ten copies of something, keep one or two.

How much you save depends on how much space you have. If space is limited, save one of every newsletter or orders of service, depending on what your committee decides. Saved documents should be placed in acid-free folders filed in acid-free boxes stored on shelves -not on the floor due to moisture and flooding possibilities-in a cool room with labeled shelves. Some documents might be sensitive in nature and should be like this should not be thrown out but “sealed” for necessary years that the individuals in question have passed.

Organizing the Archives: Labeling

Some of the information on the folder label might contain: name of the church, folder number of in the box and name and contents of the folder.

Electronic Records

Further the church may post selected records on-line. This will require a scanner that can scan both photographs and documents in PDF. Though very time consuming churches usually find it worth doing. Of course you will keep the original document even though it is put online, available on the church’s website.

These Archives

On this occasion a church had a generous patron interested to organize the archives who happened to be my client. My long-time client who was also a member of this church decided to share my time for improvement of the many un-filed items piling up in the archives office. Countless newspaper articles featuring church members, newsletters and many other ephemera piled on desks were were waiting to be organized into years for ease of retrieval. Within each year box categories were made depending on what kind of material was included in the box.

Does your organization need some help? Contact us to get some help!

Interested to know more about hiring a professional organizer? Check out this New York Times article!

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