Book Announcement: How to Keep Union Records

Like other organizations, labor unions and the archives that house their material operate in and are shaped by history. That history is largely informed by the records that labor archives receive from labor unions, the “symbiotic relationship” between the two, as Michael Nash reminds us, and the extent to which they are made available to and used by researchers. This is the message found within How to Keep Union Records. Edited by Michael Nash with selections by a cadre of labor archivists, the book is intended as much for labor archivists requiring guidance as it is for unions seeking ways to manage their records and ensure that their legacy lives into the future. It is, therefore, appropriate that the volume contains chapters on labor history and archival management, unions and labor archives, appraisal, the implications of union mergers and consolidations, oral history, audio visual and electronic records, amongst other topics.

The Walter P. Reuther Library’s reference archivist, William LeFevre, contributed to this volume with a chapter on records management and labor unions. As a labor archivist and board member of ARMA (formerly, the Association of Records Managers and Administrators), he is well poised to comment on the subject. In his chapter, he discusses the reasons records require management, the various values they possess, and the laws and accepted guidelines surrounding “the disposition, retention and destruction of [labor] records” (37). As LeFevre notes, labor archivists need to nurture relationships with records managers and IT professionals of labor unions in order to ensure that the historically important paper and electronic records in their care are transferred to an archive for future use by historians and others.

The book is a must read for labor archivists and those union staff members charged with managing union records or concerned about the legacy of organized labor. However, there is another audience that will benefit from its selections: labor historians and others conducting research on organized labor. Within the pages of How to Keep Union Records, these researchers will better understand the context in which records are created, managed, made accessible, and used by “students, scholars, documentary filmmakers, and television producers seeking to learn about the labor movement and its place in American society” (16). This context can only enrich their visits to labor archives and deepen the insights they provide in their publications.

If you think you might have labor records we’d like to archive, read more about the kinds of records we collect here at the Reuther.

How to Keep Union Records is published by the Society of American Archivists. For additional information, see their bookstore.

Louis Jones, PhD, CA, is the Field Archivist for the Walter P. Reuther Library.