Skip to main content
644 James B. Hunt Dr.
Mount Olive, NC 28365
(919) 658-7869
644 James B. Hunt Dr., Mount Olive, NC 28365 | (919) 658-7869

Preservation and Maintenance of Church Collections

a guide created for Preservation Week 2018, providing basic resources for church communities on preserving their records, archival material, and artifacts

Visit the Free Will Baptist Historical Collection

The Free Will Baptist Historical Collection currently holds the largest and most complete collection of Original Free Will Baptist historical materials. Please feel free to visit us, consult with our curator, and learn more about our collection! 

What is Preservation Week?

Preservation Week is a week set aside by the American Library Association's Association of Library Collections and Technical Services to promote education on best practices in archival preservation. Many of the resources in this guide were specifically produced by ALA for Preservation Week, while others pertain more specifically to religious archives, including church and local history materials. 

Moye Library at the University of Mount Olive created this guide in celebration of Preservation Week. We hope that it will help raise awareness of best practices in preservation and inform communities of resources available to assist in maintaining religious collections. 

Defining Church Collections

Church collections might include anything and everything relating to the history and operation of a​ congregation. Records, manuscripts, artifacts, and digital materials may be included in these collections. Recipes, scrapbooks, photos, newspaper clippings, and other materials are also likely to be included. 

Items you might find in a congregational collection: 

  • Photographs
  • Church minutes 
  • Baptismal records 
  • Sunday school materials 
  • Marketing materials
  • Scrapbooks 
  • Letters
  • Sermons and related notes

Choosing What to Keep

"Weeding." It's a word that some archivists and historians dread more than gardeners do, but it doesn't have to be a painful process. Done right, weeding a collection is the opposite of destructive. It promotes access to the collection, ease of use,  and frees up storage space for future items. 

Commonly Weeded Items

  • Duplicate documents, photographs, etc. 
  • Newspapers
    • Newspapers and/or relevant articles are often photocopied onto acid-free paper and the originals are discarded, as newspaper deteriorates quickly. This is a judgment call based on the rarity, condition, and available storage conditions for the newspapers in a collection.
  • Materials that do not fit the collection policy.
    • Examples include materials unrelated to the history, organization, and function of the denomination. 
  • Materials that present a hazard to the collection and cannot be reasonably restored.
    • Examples may include mold growth that is expensive to remove, water-damaged materials that present a threat of mold growth, 

What do I do with weeded materials? 

Often, your collection policy and/or deed of gift will have a statement about what will be done with items that are weeded from the collection, but this is not always the case. If a policy is established, you should follow that. Without an established policy, it is best to offer any discarded materials back to the donor or their next of kin. Try to make a good faith effort to do this. If this cannot be done for practical reasons, consider whether there are other institutions that may find the materials useful, if you have a right to give the material away. 

Should I throw things away? 

This is a personal call. Exact duplicates of existing collection materials are sometimes thrown away, particularly if a record is duplicated multiple times for administrative purposes. Damaged materials that are in a condition that cannot be repaired or that present a threat to other items are often discarded.

If you choose to dispose of items, be sure to shred any items containing personal, financial, or other sensitive information. 

Special Considerations and Guidelines

Although archival practice should be objective and unbiased, one's reasons for being interested in religious collections may be deeply personal.  Someone may feel called to preserve the religious heritage of themselves or others due to a personal connection to the material, a devotion to the faith, or as a means of providing access to lesser-known faith materials. Perhaps, you are interested in preserving the records of your home church or of your family's religious heritage. Personal motivation can act as a sustaining force in difficult circumstances, particularly when facing damaged records, limited resources, and an overwhelming amount of information. It is important that personal motivation remain a sustaining force, rather than a driving one, in order to ensure that the most complete, equitable, and accurate collection be made available to those who are interested in the history.

Basic Considerations: 

  • Establish a basic mission statement and collection policy. This should be simple. Your mission statement may reflect the mission of your congregation or it may simply be a statement that you collect items that preserve the history of your congregation. Your mission is your guiding statement, but your collection policy should be a bit more materially specific. If something falls outside of your mission or collection policy, you may not want to add it to your collection. You may choose to restrict what you collect based on how well you are able to safely store it, whether it poses a threat to other collection materials and/or safety, and whether it is actually illustrative of your organization's history. (Whether is is the history you WANT to illustrate is beside the point. All organizations have positive and negative attributes. It is important that an archival collection equally represent all aspects of an organization, not just the ones that make it look attractive. There is always something to be learned from the past and from past transgressions.)
  • What is important to you, or to someone else, may or may not be important to the community as a whole. If you have 10 pictures of Little Billy's Dedication Ceremony, consider keeping one or two to show what dedication ceremonies looked like at the time period and offer the rest back to the donor (or to Billy's mother). Pictures of trees and landscapes are often less illustrative than those of specific ceremonies and they often come in droves. One or two may illustrate the landscape of the past, twenty or more are overwhelming. 
  • Keep your collections honest and transparent. Do not hide the ugly truths any more than you would the shining attributes. Let the documents tell the story and make sure that you keep personal and organizational biases from getting in the way of a transparent historical account. Keep a complete and thorough record of your donations and decisions regarding them.
  • Cooperation is key! If you come across the documents of another denomination, church community, or faith consider letting the donor know and suggest a more appropriate place for the items to be donated. Work together with other faith communities and consider where items that you have the right to donate will be most used. 

Rules and Regulations: 

Consider the governing body of your religious denomination, if one exists. Some independent churches will not have this or will only be loosely related to an original founding body. Other denominations and religious traditions will be more stringent in their guidelines and may have specific criteria for record retention and maintenance.

The largest and most complete collection of historical materials pertaining to the Original Free Will Baptist Church is held in The Free Will Baptist Historical Collection at the University of Mount Olive. 

Moye Library, University of Mount Olive, 2017