General access policies

The Archives and Special Collections of the Columbia University Health Sciences Library, believes in equal access to records, administered in a consistent and unbiased manner. It is committed to facilitating research in its rich body of records. However, it also recognizes the right of individuals and of the University's administration to a reasonable degree of privacy, consistent with law and University regulations.

With these considerations in mind, the following policies for access to the archival records of the Columbia University Medical Center, as well as to personal papers included in Special Collections, have been formulated by the Archives and approved by the Columbia University Medical Center Archives Advisory Committee.

Columbia University Medical Center Archives

  1. Published materials intended for general distribution within or without the Columbia University Medical Center by any administrative or academic department are open to researchers at the time of publication. These materials may include, but are not limited to, catalogs, brochures, pamphlets, manuals and published committee reports.
  2. Administrative records of schools, centers, institutes, academic departments, and administrative offices are closed for a period of 25 years from date of creation.
    1. Records are always open to the office of origin or, in the case where an office has been discontinued, to the successor office.
    2.  If an item which is more than 25 years old is included in records less than 25 years old, access will be given to that item if it can be isolated from the records.
  3.  Records of a sitting administration of any of the four schools of the Medical Center are closed. This provision supercedes No. 2 above.
  4.  In consultation with the head of the office of origin and, if necessary, other administrators, the Head, Archives and Special Collections, may close certain records or portions of records for periods longer than 25 years.
  5. Minutes and other records of the Health Sciences Committee of the Columbia University Board of Trustees are closed for 50 years, as well those of the full Board of Trustees and its committees.
  6. Minutes of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Councils of the Medical Center schools are closed for 25 years.
  7. Records, the disclosure of which (a) might expose the Columbia University Medical Center or any other part of the University to adverse legal consequences or (b) are already closed in accordance with existing University policies, are closed.
  8. Student Educational Records: in accordance with the provisions of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), educational records of living students and alumni are open only to the student/alumni, his/her guardian, those researchers who have been granted access by the student/former student, or to University administrators with a need to know.
    1.  Exceptions to No. 8 may be made for studies designed to develop, validate, or administer predictive tests, student aid programs, or programs for improved instruction. These studies must be conducted in such a manner as to preclude the identification of the individuals mentioned in these records.
    2. Educational records of deceased students are closed for 25 years after date of last attendance; researchers should be prepared to show proof of death.
    3. Records of students whose last date of attendance was 100 years ago or more are open under the presumption that all such students are deceased.
  9. Personnel records of living current or former faculty or staff are closed, unless the faculty or staff member grants permission in writing. Personnel records of deceased faculty members or staff are closed for 25 years from date of death.
  10. The Head, Archives and Special Collections, may restrict access to records where handling would physically harm the item(s) or where the records have yet to be processed.
  11. The Head, Archives and Special Collections, may restrict access to records where it might compromise the privacy of living, third-party individuals.
  12.  Records that have been restricted by Deed of Gift are closed in accordance with the Deed of Gift.
  13.  Patient records are not covered by this policy; researchers interested in using such records should consult the Access Policy for Patient Records. Reviewed and approved by University Counsel, October 1998 Back to Top of Page

Special Collections

Special Collections comprise rare books and personal papers that have been acquired by the Health Sciences Library through purchase, donation or long-term loan. While they often illustrate the history of the Medical Center, they are not official University records and do not fall under the Access Policy for the Columbia University Medical Center Archives.

Books acquired by Special Collections are always accessible except in those cases where the physical condition of the volume prevents handling. The following policy applies only to personal papers held by Special Collections.

  1. Papers that have been restricted by Deed of Gift are closed in accordance with the Deed of Gift.
  2. Generally speaking, Special Collections will not accept personal papers that will be closed wholly, or in part, for more than 25 years.
  3. The Head, Archives and Special Collections may restrict access to papers where it might compromise the privacy of living, third-party individuals.
  4. The Head, Archives and Special Collections may restrict access to papers where handling would physically harm the item(s) or where the papers have yet to be processed.
  5. Records containing Protected Health Information (PHI) as defined by the US Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) are not covered by this policy; researchers interested in using such records should consult the Access Policy for Records Containing Protected Health Information (PHI).
  6. Access restrictions on personal papers are final and not subject to appeal

Reviewed and approved by University Counsel, October 1998

Appeal Process for Obtaining Access to Closed Records of the Columbia University Medical Center

A researcher may appeal to view closed records of the Columbia University Medical Center, with the exception of records of living students. The appeals process is as follows:

  1. The request should be submitted in writing to the Head, Archives and Special Collection, the Columbia University Health Sciences Library. The request must discuss the nature of the proposed research and demonstrate the importance of the requested materials to the proposed study.
  2. The request will be reviewed by the Head, Archives and Special Collections, the head of the office of origin of the records and, if necessary, other appropriate administrators. The decision to grant or deny access will be based on the merits of each case, weighing the needs of scholarship against the privacy rights of effected individuals and the legal interests of the University.
  3. To reach a decision, the Head, Archives and Special Collections, shall review the research proposal, examine materials to which the researcher is requesting access, and discuss the case with other administrators reviewing the request. In cases in which the materials under request are voluminous, the Head shall review them and summarize their nature and content and shall bring to the attention of those reviewing the request individual documents that may be of particular concern. In cases of requests for less substantive or extensive materials, a less formal review process may be employed, such as a telephone poll by the Director of the reviewing administrators.
  4. If the request is granted, restrictions may be placed upon access to the requested materials. The researcher must respect these conditions.
  5. Decisions reached shall be final. Department heads are considered to be the Deans of the Schools; the Directors of Institutes or Centers; the Chairpersons of the academic and clinical departments; the highest senior officer with direct responsibility for the management of administrative departments. In the case of faculty or administrators on leave or whose positions are vacant, the individual acting as the head will be consulted.

If one of the individuals needed to review the request is unavailable, the Head, Archives and Special Collections shall select another appropriate administrator to review the request. If the Head, Archives and Special Collections, is unavailable, the Archivist will act in the Head's place.

Reviewed and approved by University Counsel, October 1998