The mission of The Ringling Archives is to maintain and further develop a regionally important archival collection of institutional records and materials that document the history of the museum, the Ringling family, and circus, Wild West shows, and allied arts.


Archives staff are available to assist with your research whenever possible. Visits to the Archives are by appointment only.

Please complete the inquiry form for research assistance or to schedule a visit.

Submit an Inquiry

Digital Collections

The Ringling Archives’ digital assets are available online within Florida State University’s digital repository, known as Diginole.


Explore the Collections

Finding Aids & Resources

Access collection finding aids and resources for circus, Wild West shows and allied arts.

Finding Aids & Resources

Archives staff are able to provide copies from the collection in many different formats. Access to collections and permission to copy materials depends on its condition, legal restrictions, state law and donor restrictions. Permission to quote from manuscript material for publication purposes must be obtained from the archivist as well as from the holder of the copyright. For more information consult Rights and Reproductions.

Right & Reproductions

Donate to the Archives

Archives is always interested in learning about materials that will enhance our collections. Prospective donors are invited to contact us to discuss possible donations. Please note that in accordance with IRS rules, the Archives cannot appraise donations or pay for appraisals.

Learn more

Collection Development Policy

The Archives follows a collection development policy, as described below.

I. Introduction

In 1986, the Museum was undergoing a gallery restoration project. Historical records and materials were needed for this project. Records were stored in various offices in three separate buildings across the campus with no organizational control, which made research difficult and, at times, nearly impossible to do. In January 1987, Dr. Laurence Ruggiero, Director of the Museum, presented a proposal to the Board of Trustees to establish a Museum Archives and the motion passed. In 1989 a National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant provided the initial funding for the Archives.

The Ringling Archives has grown to become an integral part of the Museum providing information to each of the Museum’s departments. The Archives holds: the records of the Museum; Ringling Family papers; photograph collections; Circus Arts, Wild West Shows and allied arts collections; and manuscripts.

II. Archives Mission Statement

The mission of The Ringling Archives is to maintain and further develop a regionally important archival collection of institutional records and materials that document the history of the Museum, the Ringlings, the Circus Arts, Wild West shows and allied arts.

III. Goals and Objectives

The Ringling Archives supports the educational and administrative goals of the Museum by collecting, arranging, preserving, and making available for use and exhibition, records, photographs, manuscripts, printed and related archival materials that document:

1.  The influence and impact of John and Mable Ringling on Sarasota
2.  The founding, development, programs, and activities of the Museum
3.  The history of the Circus Arts, Wild West shows and allied arts
4.  The continuing impact of the Circus Arts on Sarasota
5.  The Archives works in cooperation with other archival, historical and cultural groups in supporting the preservation of Florida’s cultural heritage as well as informing the public of the importance of historical records collection.

The Archives staff is committed to make its resources accessible beyond the walls of the Archives through public programming, digitization of materials, and world-wide catalogues. 

IV. Code of Ethics

Society of American Archivists

Archives are created by a wide array of groups and provide evidence of the full range of human experience. Archivists endeavor to ensure that those materials entrusted to their care will be accessible over time as evidence of human activity and social organization. Archivists embrace principles that foster the transparency of their actions and that inspire confidence in the profession. A distinct body of ethical norms helps archivists navigate the complex situations and issues that can arise in the course of their work.

The Society of American Archivists is a membership organization comprising of individuals and organizations dedicated to the selection, care, preservation, and administration of historical and documentary records of enduring value for the benefit of current and future generations.

V. Public Records

The Archives preserve s those records deemed to be of permanent historical and administrative value and serves as an educational resource encouraging administrative and scholarly research on the Museum.

Records may be in any physical format and are appraised for their content and historical value. Records are initially created and retained in administrative offices or departments. The frequency of use and availability of space help determine if records should be retained in the office or offered to the Museum Archives. When a Museum administrative office or department defines inactive records of historical value, or needs any the department should contact the Museum Archivist for assistance.

Inactive records of enduring historical value will be selected for transfer to the Museum Archives through a process of archival appraisal. The archivist will provide guidance on selecting records for inclusion in the Museum Archives. Once it is determined that the records will go to the Museum Archives, guidelines for the transfer of records will be provided to the office. A records transfer agreement will be completed once the records have been received and accessioned. Once processed, records of enduring value will be stored in secured stacks and made available to the Museum staff and a wider community.

VI. Records Management

The University Records Management Liaison Officer (RMLO) advises on the retention and disposition of public records not selected by the Museum Archivist. As a unit of Florida State University, the records of the Museum fall under the Public Records Law of Florida (Chapters 119 and 257 Florida Statutes) and the Archives acts as the repository for public records. The Archives collects physical and digital records that are prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by administrators in the performance of an official function that have enduring historical or administrative value.

The handling and storage of these records involves significant costs and warrants careful management. Furthermore, as an agency of the State of Florida, the Museum and its employees must ensure the safekeeping of public records that have archival, administrative or legal value.

To ensure the proper handling and safekeeping of its records, Florida State University has implemented a Records Management Program. This program applies to the Museum. The Records Management Liaison Officer for the University is charged with the responsibility of administering the Records Management Program. All transactions between the Museum and components of the Bureau of Archives and Records Management are to be handled by or coordinated with the Records Management Liaison Officer or representative.

The Museum has a primary responsibility for the proper handling and safeguarding of the public records in its control. This responsibility includes ensuring that the retention value of each type or series of records is established; requesting the development of official records retention schedules for each type or series of records; ensuring that these schedules are followed with regard to the retention and disposal of records; and complying with other aspects of the Records Management Program. 

VII. Retention and Records Management

All records should be managed in such a way as to:

1.  Meet legal standards for protection, storage and retrieval
2.  Protect the privacy of faculty, staff and students as required by law
3.  Optimize the use of space
4.  Minimize the cost of record retention
5.  Destroy outdated records in an appropriate manner.

The Museum will manage its records in accordance with University requirements, in compliance with applicable federal and state laws, and in accordance with retention schedules developed by the Florida Department of State, Bureau of Archives and Records Management.

VIII. Users of the Archives

The Archives is a public resource as well as a resource for Museum staff. 

IX. Scope of the Archives

Records of the Museum consist of the official public records that document the history, organization and programs of the Museum.  There are records of: Florida State Board of Control, the Governing Boards, Committee and Councils, Office of the Museum Director, Office of the Museum Curators, Office of the Registrar, Office of the Chief Operating Officer, Education Department, Finance Department, Public Relations Office, Development Office, Conservation Department, Sales Department, Marketing and Communications and the Facilities Department.

The Ringling family papers include those that were located in the Ca’d’Zan which are not complete as well as those gifted to the museum by Ringling family members. The bulk of the John Ringling papers span the years 1929-1935. Additional Ringling family papers include Mable Ringling Papers, 1911-1928; Emily Buck Ringling papers, 1931-1934; J. E. Kirk Papers, 1935-1938; estate Records of John Ringling 1937-1946; North Family Papers, 1936 – 1948.

Photographic Collections include circus photographs depicting all aspects of the Circus arts from the 1880’s to the 1960’s; Photographs of The Ringling; Ringling Family photographs, 1920 – 1930; Glasier Glass Plate Negative Collection 1890-1930; and the A. Everett Austin Lantern Slide Collection.

The Museum’s Circus, Wild West shows and allied arts collections hold: heralds, couriers, hand bills, route books, route cards, route sheets, programs, press clipping books, press clippings, circus plans and blue prints, tickets, passes, print plates, records, correspondences, a wide variety of printed advertising materials, memorabilia, moving images, sound recordings, photographs, ledgers, day books, scrapbooks, diaries, newsletters, serials, publications, press books, letterhead, agreements, contracts, record books, menus, postcards, greeting cards, and financial records.

Manuscript collections include those that: contain papers of individuals who have had a great impact on the Museum, documentation about the Museum and/or its impact on Sarasota, papers of individuals or families involved in circus, Wild West shows and allied arts and information on the history of winter quarters in Sarasota. Manuscripts  include diaries, letters, speeches, and other writings by individuals associated with circuses and/or Wild West shows, or with allied arts that have a connection to such circuses or Wild West shows.

Audio visual materials consist of primary source visual materials (in various analog and digital formats) that depict the activities of the circus arts, Wild West shows or with allied arts that have a connection to such circuses or Wild West shows, including visual documentaries. Visual and sound recordings (in various analog and digital formats) that document the circus, Wild West shows or allied arts or have a connection to such circuses or Wild West shows, including audio documentaries.

X. Library Materials

The Archives collects primary and secondary published material including books and serials, magazines and trade journals that document the circus, Wild West shows, and allied arts, as well as broader topics that shed light on these entertainment operations.

The Museum Archives will hold a use copy and an archival copy of publications relating to circus, Wild West shows, and allied arts found in the Museum Library. If there is only a single copy of a publication in the Museum’s holdings, it will be held by the Museum Library.

XI. Acquisitions

The Museum Archives may acquire collection items by gift, bequest, purchase, transfer, or other legal means. The Archives staff is happy to accept those gifts that are consistent with the Archives’ collection policy. The Chief Archivist reserves the right to accept or decline those gifts not appropriate for the Archives. Only unrestricted gifts will be accepted. The donor will be sent two copies of a letter of acknowledgement and Deed of Gift. A list of donated items will be compiled and a copy is sent to the donor, if requested.

Unsolicited deposits which arrive at the Archives without a known or identifiable owner will be considered forfeited property and evaluated for condition and usefulness to the Archives to determine proper disposal or to be accessioned. Procedures for establishing ownership of such property shall take place in accordance with Florida Sunshine Law.

The disposition of materials found in the collection with no documentation will follow Florida Sunshine Law.

The Archives reserves the right to determine the retention, location, cataloging, use, and disposition of gifts.

I. Loans, Lending, and Borrowing

Materials cannot be lent from the Archives for any purpose without the authorization from the Director of the Museum. The Archives will accept the loan of records only when custody or donation is unobtainable or when the records are in immediate danger of being lost or destroyed. The acceptance of such material can only be made with the approval of the Director of the Museum and must have a date of termination.

II. Restrictions on Use or Access

All public records are open to inspection unless prohibited by law (Section 119.07 Florida statutes). For the protection of its collections, the Archives reserves the right to restrict access to records that are not arranged, are being processed, or are exceptionally valuable or fragile. In some cases, copies may be substituted for original documents.

III. Collection Care

The Museum will accept responsibility for and carry out the highest level of legal, ethical and professional care required to define and provide for all collections acquired or borrowed that are placed in the Museum’s custody. The Museum will support and promote the goals for collections care as stated in its own Code of Ethics and in the professional codes of ethics for museums, archivists, curators, registrars, librarians and conservators. Awareness of responsibilities for the care of collections will be incorporated into all Museum activities. The Director delegates responsibilities for the collections care and maintenance to the appropriate curator, registrar, conservation staff, facilities staff, archivist, and librarian. Every object will be designated as the responsibilities of one of the collections departments. The Chief Archivist is ultimately responsible for the safeguarding of the collection in his or her care.

XV. Risk Management 

Risk management is a high priority in the Archives care of its collections. The Archives maintains appropriate insurance to protect its collections in its possession and those on loan to the Museum. Permanent collections are insured at limits that are deemed appropriate and in accordance with industry practice. The Archives and Conservation Department oversee the adequacy and sufficiency of collection insurance.

Risk management and the security of the collections also is governed by the principles and procedures contained in The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Emergency Plan which is intended to secure the collections from theft and vandalism and identify, eliminate and reduce potential hazards to the collection, including natural disasters, vandalism, theft, human error, terrorist threats, mechanical or operational system failure, and deterioration.

XVI. Safety

Safety issues are addressed by the archives, facilities and safety and security staff. In addition to the Emergency Plan, the Museum ensures the safety of the collections in other ways.

1. The Museum insures the collections on loan as stipulated by loan agreement or negotiated contract.
2. Objects on the premises of the Museum not at the request of the Museum are not insured.
3. Security requirements for the intellectual collections parallel those for the physical collections. Maintaining duplicate records in hardcopy or electronic format at a site separate from the originals is a fundamental goal of records management.
4. Special attention to collections security issues is expected during high-risk activities such as building and exhibition renovations, special events held in Museum buildings, and when collections are in transit.
5. If theft is suspected, staff must immediately notify the Director and Asst. Director for Collections, the Office of the Registrar and the Office of Safety and Security, in order to protect the crime scene and preserve evidence. The responsible authority promptly prepares written documentation. The responsible Curator will be notified by Asst. Director for Collections. The Office of the Registrar maintains records of missing objects and files all necessary paperwork with Florida State University.
6. Staff with collections expertise will routinely inspect the collection to ensure that the location of objects is known and to maintain adequate care and condition of the objects

XVII. Deaccessioning or Dispositions of Records

After reevaluation, manuscripts or non-government records that are determined to have no permanent or historical value will follow the Museum policy of deaccessioning. All public records must be disposed of in accordance with the “Public Records Law (Chapter 119 and 257, Florida Statutes).

[1] The definition of “manuscripts” as provided here is consistent with the several definitions as found in the glossary of terms on the Society of American Archivists website one of which is: “Although manuscript literally means handwritten, ‘manuscript collection’ is often used to include collections of mixed media in which unpublished materials predominate.”