The Record - May 1998

What Are Affiliated Archives?

By Jerry L. Wallace

The purpose of this article is to tell you something about the National Archives and Records Administration's little- known affiliated archives program. This program offers an alternative to the usual physical transfer of permanent historical records into a NARA facility from the creating agency by instead permitting the records to be maintained and made available to the public at a non-NARA facility by non-NARA staff.

The Archivist of the United States is authorized to establish affiliated archives under the provision of 44 USC 2107. Applicants for affiliation with NARA may be other Federal agencies or State and private institutions. The process of affiliation is usually initiated by the applicant and begins with the submission of a formal application to the Archivist. There follows a period of internal NARA review and discussion and then negotiations with the applicant. If the request is approved, the Archivist places on deposit the permanent Federal records, which have been previously accessioned into the National Archives of the United States, at the designated non-NARA facility. As a result of this transaction, the affiliated archives receives physical custody of the records, while NARA retains legal custody and, along with it, ultimate responsibility for them.

The Agreements

For this privilege, the affiliate, through a formal memorandum-of-agreement with NARA, agrees to house, maintain, and service the records in accordance with pertinent Federal laws and appropriate NARA regulations and archival and facility standards. Essentially, the records are to be treated like any other records comprising the National Archives of the United States, and their status, as such, is seen in their inclusion in NARA's reference guides and listings. The affiliate also is responsible for all costs associated with establishing and maintaining the records and archival facility and for providing a qualified archivist to administer them. NARA may terminate the agreement if the affiliate fails to meet its obligations.

The Federal Records Act of 1950, which first authorized affiliated archives, was passed at time when NARA had no regional archival operations and no field presence, other than the lone Roosevelt Presidential Library at Hyde Park, New York. Upon accessioning by NARA, all permanent historical records came from the creating agency to the National Archives Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. In time, it was recognized that there were instances when permanent historical records, because of peculiar local interests and uses, ought to remain locally. The Federal Records Act, by authorizing the establishment of affiliated archives, provided the Archivist with an alternative to the centralization of all permanent historical records in Washington. The first affiliated archives was established in 1953 at the request of the Army's Adjutant General at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

It was found, however, that because of their specialized nature, as well as a reluctance to establish them, affiliated archives offered only a partial solution to the problem of regionalization of archival records. Consequently, in 1969, NARA established a nationwide system of regional archival facilities, which have now grown to 13 in number, to house and make available records of local interest. Their presence in major metropolitan areas across the country has ended the need for affiliated archives as simply an archival storage alternative to NARA in Washington.

Today, affiliated archives are established only under special circumstances when the value of records to their users will be significantly enhanced by their deposit at a non-NARA facility, although other factors may occasionally come into play. The Yellowstone National Park Archives, which became an affiliated archives in July 1978, offers an excellent example of this. Researchers at this facility clearly benefit from being able to use the Park's records in the physical setting in which they were created and to which they relate. They have become part of the Park's larger cultural resources complex, with closely related materials found in the Park's manuscript collection, in its extensive library holdings (including rare books) in its non-Federal photo and map collections, in its museum's holdings, and in having at hand for consultation the Park's knowledgeable professional staff. Researchers also benefit from the proximity of the records to Montana State University, which, through its Library's Special Collections, makes available its significant holdings of Greater Yellowstone papers and books, which expand upon and supplement the Park archival holdings. The University's faculty and student body, moreover, with their interest in Yellowstone, constitute a focused and continuing source of researcher interest. A similar and equally high degree of value "enhancement" accrues to the records found at the other affiliated archives.

The Affiliates

There are currently seven affiliated archives, four of which are at Federal agencies and three at State-operated institutions. The first affiliate, as previously noted, was established at West Point in 1953; the most recent, the Hartranft, which was opened by the Archivist in May 1995 at the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The Federal affiliates are:

Yellowstone National Park Archives
Records of Yellowstone National Park
Record Group 79, National Park Service

HABS/HAER Division, National Park Service, and the Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress
Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)
Record Group 516, HABS/HAER

United States Military Academy Archives
Record Group 404, United States Military Academy

William W. Jeffries Memorial Archives, U.S. Naval Academy
Record Group 405, United States Naval Academy

The State-operated institutions are:

Oklahoma Historical Society
Records of the Five Civilized Tribes and of Other Indian Tribes of Oklahoma
Record Group 75, Bureau of Indian Affairs

New Mexico State Records Center and Archives
Land Records of New Mexico
Record Group 49, Bureau of Land Management

State Archives, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Records of General John Frederick Hartranft
Record Group 393, US Army Continental Commands, 1821-1920

In 1995, NARA established a Task Force on Affiliated Archives to consider their future. The Task Force report reaffirmed their place in NARA's archival program and suggested ways for strengthening and improving the program.

NARA's 1997 Strategic Plan also addresses affiliated archives' role in a positive fashion, looking towards their possible use in handling certain large electronic records databases. There is the possibility of several new affiliates coming into being over the next few years. One proposal now under consideration is for certain large scientific databases to be maintained at an agency data center. Another possibility is a traditional affiliate at a military staff college. There also have been discussions with National Park Service staff regarding the establishment of new affiliates within the agency, as was originally envisioned twenty years ago when the Yellowstone affiliated archives was established.

Since 1989, NARA has had a formal program for overseeing and supporting affiliated archives activities. As NARA's liaison, I maintain frequent contact with affiliated archives personnel and, in turn, serve as their contact point within NARA. My principal concern is in providing assistance and guidance in areas of archival administration and in ensuring that the provisions of our joint agreements are met.

Benefiting the affiliates are periodic meetings with NARA staff specialists to discuss issues and matters of mutual interest, and the archival training provided, usually gratis, to affiliated archives archivists and archives technicians. Affiliated archives personnel can also call upon NARA specialists for guidance, for example, in the area of preservation, or in planning a new facility or moving archival holdings.

If you would like to learn more about NARA's affiliated archives program, please contact me. My address is: Jerry L. Wallace, NARA Liaison for Affiliated Archives, Office of Regional Records Services (NR), National Archives at College Park, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740-6001. I may also be contacted by phone at 301-713-7200, x252; fax, 301-837-1617; and e-mail:

Jerry L. Wallace has been an archivist on the staff of the National Archives since 1970. He has served as NARA's liaison with affiliated archives since 1989 and has been responsible for the development of the current affiliated archives program.