Archival Collection Development Policies

Margot Note

Margot Note

July 17, 2023

Collection development policies are crucial for archives as they provide a roadmap for acquiring, preserving, and managing historical materials. 

These policies outline the principles, criteria, and guidelines that shape the growth and maintenance of collections. Archivists follow several steps to create an effective collection development policy.

Understand the Purpose

Before drafting a policy, clearly defining the archives’ purpose and goals is essential. Consider the mission, scope, and intended audience of the institution. Determine the types of materials collected, such as documents, photographs, audiovisual recordings, or digital files, and identify subject areas or themes that align with the archives’ focus.

Identify Collection Development Objectives

Establish objectives that align with the archives’ purpose. Consider the educational, cultural, or research needs the collections should address. Objectives may include preserving local history, supporting scholarly research, or providing resources for community engagement. These objectives will shape the criteria for acquiring materials and guide the development of the policy.

Establish Selection Criteria 

Selection criteria are vital for assessing potential acquisitions. Define the characteristics that make materials eligible for inclusion. Consider historical significance, authenticity, relevance to the archives’ scope, condition, and legal and ethical considerations. Document these criteria to ensure consistent decision-making in the acquisition process.

Develop Acquisition Strategies

Acquisition strategies outline how the archives will acquire materials. These strategies may include direct donations, purchase agreements, partnerships with other institutions, or proactive collection development initiatives. Identify potential sources, such as individuals, organizations, or government agencies, and explore avenues for building relationships and collaborations to enhance the collection.

Processing and Access 

The collection development policy should address the processes involved in the acquisition, processing, and accessibility of materials. Outline the steps for receiving, cataloging, preserving, and digitizing items. Consider using metadata standards, storage requirements, and legal or ethical considerations, such as copyright and privacy concerns. Clearly define access policies, including any restrictions or conditions for accessing certain materials.

Preservation and Conservation

Preserving the long-term integrity of the collections is essential. Include guidelines for preservation and conservation activities. Consider environmental conditions, storage materials, digitization efforts, and disaster preparedness. Collaborate with conservation professionals and ensure regular assessments of the materials’ condition to prioritize conservation efforts effectively.

Review and Evaluation

Archivists should periodically review and update their collection development policy to adapt to changing needs and circumstances. Establish a regular review process to ensure the policy remains relevant and aligned with archival goals. Solicit feedback from staff, researchers, and stakeholders to identify areas of improvement and make necessary revisions.

Developing a Collection Development Policy

A collection management policy is of utmost importance for archives due to its vital role in preserving, organizing, and providing access to valuable historical records and artifacts. Such a policy is a comprehensive framework that guides the acquisition, appraisal, arrangement, and disposition of materials within an archives’ holdings. By establishing clear guidelines and standards, a collection management policy ensures that archives can effectively prioritize their limited resources, making informed decisions about what materials to collect, how to preserve them best, and how to provide equitable access to researchers and the public. Additionally, the policy helps maintain the integrity and authenticity of the archives’ collections, ensuring that they are documented, cataloged, and stored consistently and reliably. By adhering to a well-defined collection management policy, a repository can safeguard its holdings, promote transparency, and fulfill its crucial mission of preserving and sharing our cultural heritage for future generations.

Developing a collection development policy for archives is crucial in ensuring the growth, preservation, and accessibility of valuable materials. By understanding the purpose of the archives, setting clear objectives, establishing selection criteria, and outlining acquisition strategies, archivists can create a comprehensive policy that guides the institution’s decision-making processes. 

Documenting processing and access procedures, preservation guidelines, and incorporating regular reviews will ensure the policy remains dynamic and responsive to evolving needs. With a well-crafted collection development policy, the archives can build a robust and relevant collection that serves its mission and engages its audience effectively.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

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