The importance of history
The Silicon Valley Archives have been a dynamic and strong component of the Stanford Libraries’ collecting program since 1983. The Archives’ holdings have helped economic historians to understand the technological drivers of economic growth, historians of science and technology to piece together the development of key ideas and technologies, business historians to understand cluster effects and patterns of growth in Silicon Valley, and social historians to elucidate the origins and diffusion of technologies that have changed the world. As one graduate student who used the collections extensively in dissertation research explains, “The value of the primary source documents in the Silicon Valley Archives was absolutely incalculable. Memories can fail, stories can be skewed, but the page from a fifty-year-old lab book or the ideas someone jotted down at a meeting in 1958 are as close as we historians will ever come to a time machine that can take us back to the moment we're studying.”
People beyond the academy, too, appreciate the you-are-there sense that comes from archival materials. Numerous documentaries have used the Archive’s holdings, as have many outside researchers.
Archival materials acquired by the Silicon Valley Archives are housed permanently in the Stanford University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives, where they are open to qualified researchers regardless of affiliation.
Library professionals with special experience in manuscripts and archives are available to assist researchers. Descriptive guides provide detailed information about the collections. Guides are accessible in the reading room, through Stanford’s electronic catalog, and over the World Wide Web. In addition, the computerized catalog of the Online Archives of California and the Research Libraries Information Network (RLIN) provide online bibliographic access to related collections at major research libraries and archives around the country.
The Special Collections and University Archives staff takes preservation seriously. All materials are catalogued by professionally trained staff and stored in acid-free containers in a secure facility under environmentally controlled conditions. Special attention is given to the long-term preservation needs of photographs, audio and video tape, computer hardware and software, and other forms of digital information.
All materials in the archives are non-circulating and must be used in a reading room equipped with a security system and monitored, at all times, by a knowledgeable staff member.
Researchers are required to sign a formal agreement establishing the conditions of use of the collections; at the same time, the researcher is asked to state the purposes of the research and the anticipated final product of the work. After thus signing into the reading room, the researcher must place all personal belongings in lockers provided just outside the reading room. To protect archival materials, the use of pens is not allowed in the reading room. Patrons may use pencils or laptop computers when working with materials.
Frequently asked questions
Q: What sorts of materials are of interest?
A: Archivists like to preserve records that document all aspects of a person’s life, from his or her student days through the professional career. In the same way, aspects of a corporation’s “life” are equally valuable. All of the following would be of great interest to the Silicon Valley Archives: unpublished professional correspondence, research notes, diaries, journals, project files, technical reports, organization charts and other corporate records, patent applications, blueprints, company brochures, product documentation, photographs, and transcripts or recordings of speeches and interviews. We are prepared to accept materials in both paper and digital form.
Q: Should I organize my collection before I speak to an archivist about it?
A: No. In general, the best approach is to have the library representative see the collection and collaborate with you on an organization scheme.
Q: Are researchers required to have a Stanford University affiliation to use the collection?
A: No. The Silicon Valley archives are open to qualified researchers regardless of affiliation.
Q: What are the financial implications of a donation?
A: Occasionally, there may be a tax deduction available for your donation, but you should consult with a knowledgeable tax consultant before assuming this is the case. The value of gifts of personal papers donated by their creators currently is not tax deductible, although the value of such gifts by their heirs or estates may be allowed. An appraisal, conducted by a disinterested and qualified third party, may be required for many tax situations. Stanford can provide references to professional appraisers. You may wish to consider making a financial donation to accompany your collection or materials. Processing and long-term care can be costly. Gifts from donors can help to offset these expenses.
Q: Can I restrict access to the collection?
A: Archives staff recognizes that collections occasionally include sensitive materials that should be sealed for a period of time or otherwise restricted. The Silicon Valley Archives can accommodate such requests.
Q: What if I’m not sure my collection is appropriate for Stanford’s Silicon Valley Archives?
A: We work collaboratively with other archival programs and can work with you to find a more appropriate repository if necessary.
Q: Can I get to my materials again after I donate them?
A: You can access your materials during the reading room’s hours of public use, subject to the same rules that apply to other researchers.
Q: How can I learn more about donating collections?
A: Please contact Leslie Berlin, Project Historian for the Silicon Valley Archives, or Henry Lowood, Curator of History of Science & Technology Collections.