A Quick-and-Dirty Guide to What’s Worth Keeping Forever

by Sarah Glassford, PhD, MLIS


Materials worth keeping can take any of the following forms:

a. Digital (documents, images, emails, webpages, etc.)

b. Audio-visual (reel-to-reel film, VHS tapes, slides, photographs, microfilm, sound recordings, artwork, etc.)

c. Textual (paper files, published materials, etc.)

d. Ephemera (posters, tickets, programs, newspaper clippings, brochures, etc.)

e. Artifacts (tools, clothing, dishes, furniture, toys, pins, awards, etc.)



Materials worth keeping are usually valuable for one or more of the following reasons:

a. Administrative Value

The item offers evidence of the day-to-day affairs of the organization or activity

Ex. 1  Appointment book of the former CEO of the organization

Ex. 2  Agendas and minutes from the meetings of committees and other bodies who make important decisions for the organization (ex. Board of Governors, Executive Committee, National Sub-committee on Fundraising, etc.)

b. Legal Value

The item offers evidence of the organization’s legal affairs

Ex. 1 Deed of sale for former national headquarters building

Ex. 2 Organization’s Charter and By-Laws (different versions over the years)

Ex. 3 Documents relating to organization’s role in litigation

c. Fiscal Value

The item documents the organization’s financial affairs, responsibilities, and accountability

Ex. 1 Budgets and financial statements

Ex. 2 Materials used by staff or volunteers as part of a fundraising campaign

d. Evidential Value

The item illuminates the nature and work of the organization, including its origins, functions, values, and activities

Ex. 1 Rough notes from a brainstorming session regarding a potential new program

Ex. 2 Annual reports and other organizational publications

Ex. 3 Training manual from a program run by the organization

Ex. 4 Correspondence within organization or between organization and others

e. Informational Value

Contains information about persons, places, or subjects associated with the organization and its activities

Ex. 1 List of volunteers or donors to a special aid campaign

Ex. 2 Photographs, or other audio-visual material depicting staff and volunteers, aid recipients, special projects, facilities, etc.

Ex. 3 Poster for a workshop jointly hosted by the organization and University of Ottawa Women’s Studies Students’ Association

Ex. 4 Thank-you note from an aid recipient explaining what aid meant to them

f. Intrinsic Value

Something about the item gives it inherent worth, such as its age, its content, the way it was used, the circumstances of its creation, a signature on it, a seal attached to it, etc.

Ex. 1 Childhood diary of organization’s founder — contains no information related to the organization, but is one of the few documents written by the founder to have survived

Ex. 2 Fundraising collecting tin from 1956 — the jar and label have no value in themselves, but its use as a fundraising tool by ordinary people during one of the organization’s most successful campaigns makes it historically significant


a. Does the item help tell a story that might not otherwise be known

b. Is the item in acceptable condition, or is it irreparably damaged/unasable?