Course:2: Acquiring Your Collections
Lesson:Lesson 4: Acquiring Historical Records and Establishing Legal Control of Them
Topic:Legal Control: Deposit Agreements

Deposit Agreements

A deposit occurs when records are placed in your physical custody without an actual transfer of title. It's similar to a bank account--you deposit money with the bank, so the bank has physical custody of it; but you maintain ownership and control of the funds. With a deposit agreement, you have the records in your collection, but you do not actually own them.

Most programs try to avoid deposit agreements unless the collection is very valuable and there is no other way to ensure its safekeeping. Why do archivists avoid them? Your organization may end up using its resources to manage, store, and provide access to the collection, only to have the owners change their mind and want the collection returned.

Some deposit agreements state that ownership will pass to the historical records program at a certain time. If you are dealing with an individual, it is best to have the deposit agreement state that title will pass to your program upon the individual's death.

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A sample deposit agreement is available here. You can also download a blank copy of this sample deposit agreement to use in your own program and adapt as necessary.

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If you decide to use a deposit agreement to acquire materials, it should answer these questions:

Who provides insurance for the records against loss?

What type of archival work needs to be done for the collection and who is responsible for paying for it?

Is access permitted to the collection?  Are there access restrictions?

If there are restrictions, who is able to grant access?

If the depositors remove the records before transferring title, do they have to reimburse your program for its costs in managing the collection? Is your program responsible for accidental damage to the collection?