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Archives Spotlight: The AAM Guide to Donating Collections

By Carol Mead

The following article, featured as part of the Archives of American Mathematics Spotlight, was published in the April/May 2010 issue of MAA FOCUS. The full issue is available here (pdf).

As the archivist for the Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) at the University of Texas at Austin, I am frequently asked what types of records we collect and how people can donate them. Some people may also wonder what happens to materials after they arrive.

As stated on its website, the AAM "is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and providing access to the records of American mathematicians and mathematical organizations for use by historians, mathematicians, educators, and others interested in the history and development of mathematics." To that end, the AAM houses and provides access to the papers of individual mathematicians and the records of organizations, including the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), for which the AAM is the official repository.

What Are Archives?

Archives collect records created or received by individuals or organizations and preserve them because of their enduring historical value. Archival records typically consist of a variety of documentation reflecting an individual's life and career or an organization's activities.

For example, the Paul Halmos Papers, which the AAM houses, reveal Halmos's professional and personal interests and activities through student notes, diaries, correspondence, and photographs. The records of the MAA, also part of the AAM, document its long history through correspondence, photographs, committee documentation, and meeting minutes.

These collections further our understanding of history by revealing ideas with historical significance, decisions made and actions taken, and the role of a person or organization in that history.

What to Donate

Types of documents vary from collection to collection, depending on the person or the organization, but some general guidelines apply. A list’not comprehensive’of typical documents that we accept and encourage you to send to us follows. It should be noted that we accept digital files in addition to paper records.


Correspondence (paper and email); diaries and journals; research, especially notes and notebooks; class notes taken as a student; class notes created for classes as a professor; reprints of articles by the collection's creator; published or unpublished manuscripts of articles and books; lectures; evidence of involvement with professional associations, publishers, and conferences; and photographs.


Articles of incorporation; charters, bylaws; minutes; board of directors files; officer records; committee documents; reports (annual, committee, etc.); organization newsletters; agendas; photographs; meeting and conference materials; organizational charts; and brochures and fliers.

What not to donate

Books, journals, and other publications not published by the person or organization. Reprints by other authors.

After You Donate

When we receive your donation, we send you a letter of acknowledgment and a Deed of Gift, in which you indicate any restrictions and copyright issues’we hope there aren't any’and that you sign and return to us. The University of Texas Office of Development signs the deed, and we return a copy of the signed version to you.

Once the deed is in place, we process the collection, which means we establish a logical arrangement for the documents, store them in acid-free folders and boxes, and create a finding aid, which consists of a biographical summary, a review of the collection's contents, and a box listing. Next, the collection is catalogued in the University of Texas library system, and the finding aid is uploaded to the web. Finally, we place the collection on the shelf, and it is ready to be used for research.

Sending a Collection

To initiate the process of sending your papers or records, please contact me at I will want to know the nature of the collection, its contents (e.g., letters, photographs, notebooks), and its volume. Once we determine that your materials are appropriate for deposit here, I ask that you pack them in a reasonable order in very sturdy boxes’preferably not large ones, as they tend to fall apart more easily than smaller, lighter boxes.

Please send your donation to my attention:

Carol Mead
2313 Red River St., Unit 2
Austin, TX 78705
(512) 495-4598

For more information about donating your collection, please see the AAM web page or email me. I look forward to hearing from you.

The Archives of American Mathematics (AAM) is a unit of the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Individuals interested in conducting research or donating materials or who have general questions about the AAM should contact Carol Mead, Archivist:, (512) 495-4539.

Revised on July 12, 2010.