Virginia Society of Health-System Pharmacists
Best Practice: Records Retention
Interview with Brian Baird, FASHP, Past President, Virginia Society of Health-System Pharmacists
Can you describe the circumstances that led to the Virginia Society of Health–System Pharmacy’s decision to research the storage of the society’s historical records?
Our historian was ready to retire from her duties, and up to that point she had been storing all of the VSHP archives in her personal residence. We needed to transfer them to another owner, which raised the question of whether that should be an archive somewhere, or another member’s residence. We researched the archiving option and liked what we saw.
What led VSHP to the Virginia Historical Society (VHS)?
Our former historian did the initial inquiries, so I’m not precisely certain. However, VHS is the official state historical society of the Commonwealth of Virginia, so it would naturally be near the top of the list. There are other options: the Library of Virginia is a research library used by the legislature of Virginia, and it performs archive functions. Many larger state university libraries also contain extensive archives and have similar capabilities. A bonus was that VHS has a lovely reading room where scholars, historians, and the public can read and make use of records in VHS’ possession.
Please describe the process and timeline for archiving VHSP’s historical records.
The archivist who was assigned to VSHP’s project made this as simple as possible for non–historians like us. Once we were in contact with them, they coordinated a time for us to bring the unsorted boxes of records to their location. Essentially, they were willing to sort and store everything we could bring, which amounted to about a dozen bank boxes filled with various meeting records, newsletters, photographs, and so on. Importantly, VSHP was able to decide whether they retained ownership of the records or if they were signed over to VHS. We chose to keep ownership, so the records are housed at the VHS museum but are still ours. Once the records were on site at VHS, we waited for several months as they processed and sorted them. All the records were sorted by time and type, placed neatly into acid–free numbered folders, and then given new storage boxes which were also identified. When the process was complete, the location of the various documents was recorded and placed on VHS’ website so that those who are looking for records know what is present and which boxes to request
What are the costs associated with the process?
We paid about $1,500 for the sorting, new storage supplies, and website listing. There is no annual fee. There were less expensive options available at the time, such as simple storage with no sorting, and sorting without an online index. Of note, this particular process did not digitize the records or make them directly available online. I have heard of facilities which have this capability, but I don’t know the difference in cost. Digitalization could also be done at a later time, I suppose.
Would you recommend this process to other ASHP state affiliated associations?
I would say that I recommend ensuring that your historical records – whatever those might consist of – are protected. Fire, water, the rusting of steel in three–ring binders, insects, and other hazards can consume records over time. Our records go back to the initial VSHP meetings in the mid 1950’s and those initial records are fairly fragile. If the archive’s single copy is lost then that record may be gone forever, and having a change of heart at a later time won’t change that. Protecting archives can take several forms, but neglecting them indefinitely is not a good action plan.
What would you say are the top three benefits this format brings to the association?
I suppose having historical records resonates differently with different people at different times, but most people benefit from seeing the sweep of history of an organization which they are a part of. Being able to show how VSHP has progressed over decades helps people understand that they are part of something enduring, and may help them confront current challenges with the knowledge of how many challenges have already been overcome by VSHP in the past.
They are also simply wonderful to peruse, I should note that our arrangement allows us to ‘check out’ records and return them later, so that we can display portions of them at our seminars. For example, it’s great to see records including one of our founders, R. David Anderson, and how he was involved back in 1955. He was president of ASHP in 1971, and ASHP just made him a Fellow this year, so he’s still in the game.
Is there any advice you would give to other affiliates interested in this process, based on your experience?
I would recommend that an officer check in with the affiliate historian at least annually, and ask if they are willing to continue the task. The designated historian should have a checklist of documents which they collect and add to the archives annually, in hardcopy form. If the archives are currently not organized, or are not kept in a climate–controlled space, I would suggest forming a team to make that an eventual goal. Finding a way to make the records available to historians, scholars, and other members of the organization also makes sense – history is no fun if no one is able to see it.
If you had one or two nuggets of advice to offer other state organizations about organizing their archives, what would they be?
The annual check in to ensure someone is collecting current records and placing them with the others is key – this can fall victim to the out of sight/out of mind phenomenon. Finally, remember that this is playing the long game: although some records may seem banal now, they are a part of the pharmacy culture in your state and will be of interest to someone in the future – perhaps rather far in the future. Losing them means losing part of your culture.
The online index of Virginia Society of Health-System Pharmacy archives may be found here.