Gift Collection Acquisition Policy

General Information Leaflet (GIL) 34

National Archives Gift Collection Acquisition Policy:
Motion Pictures and Sound and Video Recordings


Pursuant to 44 U.S.C. 2107 and 2111, the Archivist of the United States may accept for transfer into the National Archives materials from private sources, including motion pictures, still pictures, and sound recordings, that are appropriate for preservation by the government as evidence of its organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and transactions.


As a matter of policy, audiovisual coverage is defined in its broadest sense to include not only records of the activities of agencies and officials but also documentation of the impact and the reporting in newsreels, radio, and television of their programs and decisions. In this way, the National Archives Gift Collection of audiovisual materials will complement official records by providing multidimensional documentation of past programs, actions, and decisions. By extension, video recordings are also included, since many motion pictures are accessioned in the form of video recordings, and many recordings of current events are now on videotape.


The purpose of this policy statement is to provide guidance in the implementation of this authority by clarifying objectives, by outlining several operating assumptions and criteria for acceptance, and by targeting specific areas of collection activity.


The specific objectives of the acquisition of donations of audiovisual materials are twofold:
  1. to ensure significant audiovisual coverage of the U.S. Government.
  2. to fill gaps in the holdings of the National Archives.

Operating Assumptions

The acceptance of audiovisual materials is based upon the following assumptions:
  1. Before the establishment of the National Archives, many early federal audiovisual records were alienated or lost, and the only copies of such records may be in private hands.

  2. Because of technical, program, or practical limitations, federal organizations have not always created adequate audiovisual records of their historical activities. For example, the speeches of President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to be restored from fragments of newsreel and radio coverage. Even today there is no legal requirement or other assurance that officials in all three branches of the US Government will make an audiovisual record of their speeches, press conferences, interviews, or radio and television appearances.

  3. Coverage of federal programs and the activities of federal officials, as reported in the news media (newsreels, news film, and television and radio news) constitutes unique audiovisual documentation of the 20th-century history of the US Government, documentation that is frequently requested by researchers for numerous kinds of audiovisual projects.

  4. Even though an abundance of official textual records may exist to document programs and activities of federal officials and organizations, it cannot provide the aural, pictorial, and moving-image information that is uniquely characteristic of audiovisual materials. Audiovisual information can be used to enhance our understanding of our history, and it can be reused in film, television, or radio programs for the edification of a broad spectrum of the public.

Selection Criteria

Appraisal of audiovisual materials under consideration for accessioning into the National Archives must take into account the following factors:
  1. The research value of the audiovisual materials, including but not limited to the uniqueness, the quantity and quality of pictorial and/or aural information, the physical condition, and the relative age of the material.
  2. The relationship of the audiovisual materials to official records or to other gift materials in the National Archives.
  3. The donor's willingness to deed the donated physical property to the National Archives and to allow access to the gift materials for purposes of preservation, study, exhibit, and reproduction, consistent with the donor's applicable underlying rights or copyright interests and with the National Archives' mandate to make its holdings available.
  4. The total processing and preservation requirements. Large collections will not be accepted if it is beyond the means of the National Archives to provide archival processing and reference service within an acceptable period of time. Donor support, however, can be a mitigating factor in measuring the concomitant archival workload.

Areas of Interest

While it is impossible to anticipate all categories of potential donations, the National Archives accepts historical audiovisual materials that are:
  1. Reproductions of films, videotapes, or sound recordings of government origin whose official record copies are no longer extant.

  2. Personal records made by private individuals or organizations showing their participation in or observation of significant federal activities.

  3. Documentation of a significant federal activity or its impact.

  4. The products of news-gathering or public affairs presentations having national application.

  5. Motion picture, videotape, or sound recording productions utilizing National Archives audiovisual holdings.

The following types of audiovisual materials are especially welcome:
  1. Newsreels. The National Archives has been historically identified with the preservation of American newsreels, which remain the cornerstone of its motion picture gift collections. The Archives' serial holdings begin with 1929 newsreels and are strongest in the 1940-67 period. Newsreels dated before 1929 are most desired because of their rarity and because they will complement other series of newsreels in the National Archives. Newsreels from the 1930s are another priority, especially projection prints that are intact, having both picture and matching sound. Newsreels dating from World War II and after will be considered case by case or reel by reel so as to avoid redundancy with current holdings. Newsreel outtakes are also evaluated item by item.

  2. Television Newscasts. Television daily news coverage, including coverage of special events, is also desirable because it supports the objective of having continuous audiovisual coverage of national and international news events, a tradition started with Paramount News and the National Archives in 1940 for newsreels and continuing with CBS News since 1974. If the current agreement with CBS News for deposit of videotape copies of its daily news is ever abrogated due to economic or other reasons, comparable coverage from the other networks to maintain continuity will be especially welcome. The National Archives will accept from television organizations the donation of video recordings of specific broadcasts that relate to the US Government and have unusual historical importance or significance; these may include speeches, interviews, or ceremonies with obvious importance to US national history.

  3. Unedited Television News Coverage. National Archives interest in television news coverage also extends to unedited film footage and video field cassettes to the extent that they have permanent research value. The outtakes or unaired footage may contain more valuable information than the edited footage put on the air. Such material, however, can be voluminous, given the usual high ratio of raw material to finished broadcast product. Although it is appropriate to consider such donations, acceptance must be based on a careful evaluation of total archival costs. Donors of large collections will be encouraged to contribute to the cost of archival processing whenever possible.

  4. Cable Television Broadcasts. The National Archives has an interest in cable coverage of all congressional committee hearings. Although the House and Senate television systems record the floor proceedings for immediate broadcast access and for eventual preservation by the National Archives and by the Library of Congress, cable coverage remains the most likely source of committee hearings coverage. Some recorded interviews or speeches by congressional leaders and other government leaders carried on cable may be of interest if the interviews or speeches are recorded in their entirety and meet other tests of permanent research value. Recordings of briefings and conference proceedings relating to policy issues also may be of interest.

  5. Sound Recordings. A transfer plan with National Public Radio provides deposits of news and public affairs programming on a 5-year delayed basis and has formed the foundation of the Archives' contemporary audio coverage since 1971. However, National Archives holdings of sound recordings of speeches and news events are deficient for the period before World War II and for the later 1950s and the early 1960s. Donations from these years will be welcome.

  6. Sound Recordings of Government Radio Programs, 1925-65. Agencies, in cooperation with radio networks and production companies, have produced series of programs explaining federal policies and activities, but often they have not retained copies of these programs in agency files. Sound recordings of these early government radio programs still in the possession of private individuals, production companies, or sponsoring organizations are appropriate for addition to National Archives holdings.

  7. Sound Recordings of Oral History Interviews. Still another area of potential donations (in accordance with 44 U.S.C. 2111) are sound recordings and accompanying textual materials from cooperative oral history projects conducted by federal agencies in which the recordings are considered private gift materials. Finally, the archival value of gift materials offered to the National Archives will be significantly enhanced if they consist of originals instead of duplicates. This will facilitate making quality preservation copies. An offer, however, may be rejected if it consists of copies already preserved and made available in another archives or library since it would not meet the National Archives requirement for unique historical materials.