School archives are important and useful for many schools
Information professionals everywhere are focusing on 21st-century skills. We are developing new uses for our library facilities like makerspaces and learning commons. It is not surprising that the idea of giving up valuable space for a permanent collection is not a priority. First of all, setting aside space to collect items for posterity is not going to fit in every school library’s mission. Another issue may be that some schools are new and have not established enough history to warrant such a collection. Furthermore, a number of programs might be so overwhelmed, and the thought of adding one more task is unthinkable. Nevertheless, there are many schools that may find school archives useful.
According to a 2012-13 report from the National Center for Education Statistics , the average age of the main instructional building in US public schools is 44 years. This is meant to be a facilities statistic, but an educator might deduce that these schools are possibly two or three generations old. In other words, children, parents, and grandparents may have all attended the same public school. With this kind of generational history, school archives, even if it is simply a collection of yearbooks, would be a benefit to the school and their alumni. There are a few schools in the United States that are more 350 years old. The oldest public high school is Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts, established in 1635. The oldest independent school is Collegiate School in New York, NY, founded in 1628.
Establishing school library archives
Your library does not have to be 300 years old to establish an archive. The best time to start an archival collection is when a school is new. It is better to place items in the collection when they are current rather than having to search years later for artifacts on eBay, Amazon, or wherever we will shop for such things in the future. There is much help online and several schools that are doing a great job with archival collections. For tips on establishing school archives consult the handout Establishing a School Archives. The handout gives two primary reasons for establishing school archives. One reason is to collect and preserve valuable documents, another primary reason is using the archives for teaching and learning.
For examples of connecting archives with teaching and learning:
Two schools that benefit from school archives
I have two high school aged children, one attends a small, private day/boarding school. My other child attends a very large public school. Both schools have special collections and archives. Each school manages the collections in different ways, but both school libraries are involved in the care of these collections. I interviewed the Librarian from one school and the Archivist from the other school.
Large Public School – approx. 2,200 students
Librarian Kelly MacLean from Riverdale High School in the city of Murfreesboro, TN, (approx. pop. 126,000) was very busy teaching classes with her co-librarian Krista Denton, but she was kind enough to answer my questions via email.
When was the school founded? 1972
Are you in original buildings? We are still in our main building, but we’ve had many additions. Most recently, a freshman annex building on the other side of campus.
Are there original documents and artifacts [pennants, uniforms,etc.] displayed at your school? All of the class composites since 1972 are displayed in the halls of the building. I’ve seen past graduates come during open house nights and show their own children their composite photos.
Does the Library have a special collection of yearbooks, playbills, etc.? The library has a collection of each yearbook since the school opened and we frequently have people come back to make copies of pictures or look at class photos. We don’t house any other special collections in the library, but I know other departments keep archives of their things (band department, theater department, etc.).
Small Independent School – approx. 325 students
Archivist Susan Coop Howell from my own school, The Webb School in rural Bell Buckle, Tennessee, (approx. pop. 506) helped to answer the same questions about our collection.
When was the school founded? 1870
Are you in original buildings? The original campus was actually in Culleoka, Tennessee. The founders moved the campus to Bell Buckle in 1886. There are eighteen large buildings on the 150-acre campus. There are two Bell Buckle buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, one of which is an original 1880s classroom “The Junior Room.”
Are there original documents and artifacts [pennants, uniforms,etc.] displayed at your school? Class composites from 1926-Present are displayed in the Chapel. Senior Boards from 1940-present are displayed in several buildings across campus. The Library has pennants, academic trophies, and other ephemera in several museum display cases in the library.
Does the Library have a special collection of yearbooks, playbills, etc.? Yes, when the library became the “Library and Archives” in 2012 we began collecting and organizing all of the above and more. We have letters from the founders and their children in our collection that pre-date the Civil War.
Tilley, Mildred. “Establishing a School Archives.” International Boys’ Schools Coalition. Toronto: IBSC, 2008. Rpt. of “Building an Archives.” https://www.theibsc.org/uploaded/IBSC/Conference_and_workshops/Toronto_Workshops/Tilley_Handout.pdf
U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from
Author: Hannah Byrd Little
Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.