Appraising Research Records


Research records refer to any materials created or collected while conducting research as part of a Smithsonian employee's official duties. They may exist in many formats including sheets of paper, notecards, field books, maps, databases, spreadsheets, audiovisual materials, and images. Research records can typically be divided into three broad categories: 1) secondary research materials; 2) original research materials; and 3) research outputs. In each of these categories, there may be a subset of materials often referred to as "working files."

Secondary Research Materials

Secondary research materials are those that were created by another entity that are used in an employee's own research. These most commonly include copies of original documents found in archives, published materials, or copies of original research materials created by someone else but provided to the employee for reuse in another research project. While these materials may be critical to an employee's research, they do not necessarily belong to the Smithsonian and are typically already being maintained and preserved by another organization. When properly cited within an employee's research, other researchers should be able to gain access to those materials from their original source; therefore, secondary research materials should not be transferred to the Smithsonian Institution Archives. Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis if the employee has reason to believe that the research materials may otherwise be lost.

Original Research Materials

Original research materials are created by the employee or another member of the research project team regardless of affiliation. In the arts and humanities, original research materials may consist of interviews, oral histories, correspondence, images, audiovisual materials, or surveys. In the sciences, original research materials may consist of raw data, written observations, field books, annotated maps, and images and audiovisual recordings taken for observational purposes. Original research materials are considered historically and scientifically valuable records which must be preserved and maintained. To some extent, employees have discretion as to where those records will be stored, based upon access needs, reuse possibilities within the larger community, grant requirements, and non-Smithsonian research partners. Employees should consult the Smithsonian Institution Plan for Increased Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research for additional guidance.

Analog materials will generally be best maintained by the Smithsonian Institution Archives. The Archives already has a large collection of paper-based research records as well as analog images and audiovisual materials. These materials are described in online finding aids and can generally be easily found and accessed by both employees and external researchers. The museum or research center may also decide to keep the materials on-site for a period of time to accommodate ongoing research.

Digital materials allow for increased sharing of data across the research community. This is best accomplished by maintaining the data online where it may be accessed by a wider audience. It may be kept as a standalone dataset or included in a larger dataset populated by numerous institutions. Original research materials in digital format can be maintained in any discipline-specific or FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable) digital repository, regardless of the managing entity. Keep in mind that there may be reasons not to immediately share research materials, such as ongoing research, publication dates, or the need for data cleanup.

Alternatively, digital research materials may be sent to the Smithsonian Institution Archives with the understanding that they will be managed as any other archival materials - a finding aid will be available online, but not necessarily the data itself. Also, in the case of databases/datasets, the Archives will preserve the underlying tables, but may not be able to preserve the functionality of the databases over time. Manage Research Data provides more detailed information on data repositories and other aspects of managing digital research records.

Any documentation required to properly understand or interpret data should be maintained with the original research materials.

Research Outputs

Research outputs include any analysis or compilation of secondary or original research materials, such as manuscripts, reports, statistics, or presentations. Published outputs do not need to be transferred to the Smithsonian Institution Archives as they will be maintained and made available by various libraries and online journal subscription services or will otherwise be made available in accordance with the Smithsonian Institution Plan for Increased Public Access to Results of Federally Funded Research. Other research outputs should be transferred to the Archives.

Significant related correspondence, editorial comments, and notes are considered to be an extension of the research outputs. "Significant" is defined as those materials documenting major changes to the analysis, conclusion, or emphasis of the research output. These supporting documents should also be transferred to the Archives for both published and unpublished materials. 

Working Files

Working files may be found in any of the categories outlined above. These are often files that are created for logistical purposes, but have no long-term value. Working files include drafts, duplicates, and routine correspondence. Working files may also include subsets of data that are still present in the larger data set, unless there is significant research value in their separation.

For questions regarding the disposition of any research-related records, please contact the Archives and Information Management Team.