Developing Acquisition Strategies for Archives

Margot Note

Margot Note

August 14, 2023

Acquiring materials is a crucial aspect of archival collection development. To build a robust archives, it is essential to develop effective acquisition strategies. 

These strategies outline the methods and approaches used to acquire valuable materials that align with the archives’ mission and objectives.

Identify Sources

The first step in developing acquisition strategies is to identify potential sources of materials. Consider various avenues such as individuals, organizations, government agencies, businesses, and other archives. Explore local historical societies, cultural institutions, and community groups that may have valuable materials related to the archives’ focus. Networking and building relationships with potential donors or partners enhance acquisition efforts.

Acquisition Methods

Direct donations are a common source of acquisitions. Develop a proactive outreach strategy to engage with individuals and organizations who may be willing to donate materials. Raise awareness about the archives’ mission, the importance of preserving historical materials, and the potential impact of their contributions. Cultivate relationships with potential donors and communicate the benefits of their donations, including recognition, tax benefits, and preserving their legacy.

Occasionally, purchasing materials to fill gaps or enhance collections may be necessary. Allocate funds for acquisitions and explore opportunities to purchase materials aligned with the archives’ objectives. This may involve attending auctions, working with rare book dealers, or negotiating purchase agreements with individuals or organizations. 


Collaborating with other institutions can be a profitable acquisition strategy. Establish partnerships with libraries, museums, universities, and research centers with similar interests or complementary collections. Develop cooperative acquisition programs that allow for material exchange or joint acquisition. Collaborative efforts expand the breadth and depth of the archives’ holdings and foster knowledge sharing and resource optimization.

Collection Development Initiatives

To actively build and shape the archives’ collections, consider implementing proactive collection development initiatives. Conduct research to identify materials missing from the holdings or necessary to support specific research or educational goals. Engage in proactive outreach to individuals, organizations, or communities that may have relevant materials and initiate conversations about potential acquisitions. Proactive collection development initiatives demonstrate the archives’ commitment to continuously expanding and enriching collections.

In the digital age, acquiring digital materials is becoming increasingly important. Develop strategies to acquire born-digital materials or digitize physical materials to ensure their long-term preservation and accessibility. Collaborate with technology experts to establish protocols and tools for acquiring, managing, and preserving digital content. Explore partnerships with digital repositories or online platforms that can facilitate acquiring and sharing digital materials.

Balancing Scope and Resources

While pursuing acquisition strategies, balancing the archive’s scope and available resources is essential. Consider the capacity of the archives to manage and preserve acquired materials effectively. Prioritize acquisitions that align closely with the archives’ mission and objectives while being mindful of resource limitations. Regularly assess the capacity of the archives to avoid overextending resources and ensure the sustainability of the acquisition efforts.

Maintain transparency and accountability in acquisition strategies. Communicate the acquisition processes, criteria, and priorities to potential donors, researchers, and stakeholders. Implement documentation and record-keeping systems to track acquisitions, including provenance, legal agreements, and donor acknowledgments. Regularly report on acquisitions and their significance to demonstrate the impact and value of the archives’ collections.

Acquisition Done Right

A well-crafted acquisition strategy is essential for archives to build and maintain exceptional collections. It enables proactive collection development, resource allocation, and ethical considerations, all contributing to the archive’s mission of preserving and providing access to valuable historical materials. By developing effective acquisition strategies, archives can strengthen their holdings, enhance their scholarly value, and ensure the long-term preservation of our cultural heritage.

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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