Gift Collection Acquisition Policy: Still Pictures

General Information Leaflet (GIL) 35

National Archives Gift Collection Acquisition Policy:
Still Pictures


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, still picture coverage is defined in its broadest sense to include not only photographs and posters and other graphic materials depicting the activities of agencies and officials but also documentation of the impact of their programs and decisions. This includes not only government-generated images but also, for example, pictures made or taken by newspapers and magazines, as well as still pictures from other private sources. In this way, the National Archives Gift Collection of still pictures will complement official records.


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 still photographic, poster, and other graphic materials are twofold:

  1. to ensure significant still picture coverage of programs and activities of the U.S. Government
  2. to fill gaps in the existing holdings of the National Archives

Operating Assumptions

The acceptance of still picture materials is based upon the following assumptions:

  1. Before the establishment of the National Archives, many early federal still photographic and poster records were alienated or lost, and the only extant copies of such records may be in the custody of private individuals or institutions.
  2. All federal agencies are now required by law to make and preserve records containing sufficient documentation of their organization, activities, and programs. However, because of technical, program, or practical limitations, agencies have not always created or collected adequate still picture records in the past. Despite the fact that the definition of records does include still pictures, there is no specific legal requirement or assurance that officials of federal agencies will in fact create or acquire pictorial records of their activities and preserve and transfer them to the National Archives.
  3. Even though an abundance of official textual records may exist to document programs and activities of federal officials and organizations, visual material is still necessary to provide its unique informational content. Photographs, posters, and other graphic items complement the textual records and enhance our understanding of our history.
  4. The function of still pictures extends beyond those of other types of records to their extensive use as illustrations in books and periodicals, in film, and on television. They consequently often reach a broader spectrum of the public than other types of records.

Selection Criteria

Appraisal of poster and still photographic materials under consideration for accessioning into the National Archives must take into account the following factors:

  1. The research value of the photographic or poster materials, including but not limited to the uniqueness, the quantity and quality of pictorial information, the physical condition, the adequacy of identification and documentation, and the age of the material.
  2. The relationship of the still picture materials to official records or to other gift materials in the National Archives or held in government agencies and scheduled for transfer to the National Archives.
  3. The donor's willingness to deed the donated physical property and rights to the National Archives and to allow access to the gift materials for purposes of preservation, study, exhibit, and reproduction, consistent with the National Archives' mandate to make its holdings available.
  4. The total processing and preservation requirements. (Donor financial support can be a mitigating factor in measuring the concomitant archival workload.)
    1. 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.
    2. Photographic collections on unstable film bases, such as early acetate or nitrate which must be copied, may not be accepted if expenses associated with preservation exceed resources available to the National Archives.
    3. Posters and other graphic items requiring extensive repair in order to be made available may not be accepted if expenses associated with such repairs exceed resources available to the National Archives.
    4. The possession of all elements of the photographic record, positive and negative, where applicable, is preferred.
    5. Items should be adequately identified.

Areas of Interest

While it is impossible to anticipate all categories of potential donations, the National Archives accepts historical still picture materials that are:

  1. Reproductions of government photographs or copies of government produced posters or graphics whose official record copies are no longer extant.
  2. Documentation of a significant federal activity or its impact.
  3. Personal records made by private individuals or organizations showing their participation in or observation of significant federal activities.
  4. Documentation of important aspects of photographic history especially as related to US federal government activities.
  5. Documentation of an organization whose activities are closely allied to the federal government, such as the Red Cross or United Service Organization (USO). Of particular interest are those organizations whose textual or audiovisual records have already been accepted by the National Archives.