Gift Collection Acquisition Policy: Still Pictures
General Information Leaflet (GIL) 35
National Archives Gift Collection
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:
- to ensure significant still picture coverage of programs and activities of the U.S. Government
- to fill gaps in the existing holdings of the National Archives
The acceptance of still picture materials is based upon the following assumptions:
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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 CriteriaAppraisal of poster and still photographic materials under consideration for accessioning into the National Archives must take into account the following factors:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The total processing and preservation requirements. (Donor
financial support can be a mitigating factor in measuring
the concomitant archival workload.)
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- The possession of all elements of the photographic
record, positive and negative, where applicable, is
- Items should be adequately identified.
- 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.
Areas of InterestWhile it is impossible to anticipate all categories of potential donations, the National Archives accepts historical still picture materials that are:
- Reproductions of government photographs or copies of
government produced posters or graphics whose official
record copies are no longer extant.
- Documentation of a significant federal activity or its
- Personal records made by private individuals or
organizations showing their participation in or observation
of significant federal activities.
- Documentation of important
aspects of photographic history
especially as related to
US federal government activities.
- 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.