Understanding the Archives’ Purpose

Margot Note

Margot Note

July 24, 2023

A fundamental aspect of creating an effective collection development policy for archives is understanding the purpose behind the institution’s archives. 

This understanding forms the foundation for all subsequent decisions and actions. In this blog post, we will explore the significance of understanding the purpose of the archives and how it influences the development and management of the collections.

Defining the Mission and Scope

The mission of the archives encapsulates its overarching goals and objectives. Consider articulating a clear, concise mission statement reflecting the institution’s unique identity and purpose. A well-defined mission statement provides a guiding light, ensuring all collection development efforts align with the archives’ core values and principles.

After establishing the mission, archivists should define the scope and focus of their holdings. Consider the types of materials that best support the mission. Are archivists primarily interested in preserving historical documents, photographs, audiovisual recordings, or digital files? Is the archives focused on a specific subject area, such as local history, art, or scientific research? Defining the scope and focus helps to streamline acquisition efforts and maintain a coherent and meaningful collection.

Identifying Audiences

Understanding the intended audience of the archives is crucial for tailoring the collections and services to their needs. Consider who will benefit from accessing the archives’ materials. Are archivists primarily serving scholars, researchers, students, or the general public? Archivists can design collection development strategies that cater to their interests, preferences, and research requirements by identifying the target audience.

Supporting Research 

Many archives have a solid educational and research component. Identify how the archives can contribute to scholarly pursuits, educational programs, and research initiatives. By aligning the collection development efforts with these goals, archivists can ensure that archives remain valuable for academic and intellectual pursuits. Consider partnering with educational institutions or collaborating with researchers to enhance the impact and relevance of the collections.

Archives often serve as custodians of local history and cultural heritage. Understanding the significance of the region’s history and culture allows archivists to prioritize acquiring materials that preserve and promote these valuable assets. Engage with local communities, historical societies, and cultural organizations to ensure that the archives accurately reflect and celebrate the unique heritage of the area it serves.

Promoting Engagement

Archives have the potential to be vibrant community centers, fostering a sense of connection and belonging. Explore opportunities to engage the local community through exhibitions, public programs, lectures, and workshops. By understanding the needs and interests of the community, archivists can shape collection development policies to include materials that resonate with and inspire the people they serve.

Understanding the archives’ purpose also involves acknowledging and addressing ethical considerations. Archives often encounter copyright, intellectual property rights, privacy, and cultural sensitivity issues. Develop guidelines and procedures that ensure compliance with legal and ethical standards while respecting the rights and interests of the individuals and communities represented in the collections.

The Archival North Star

Understanding the archives’ purpose is the first step in developing a comprehensive collection development policy. By defining the archives’ mission, determining the scope and focus, identifying the intended audience, and addressing ethical considerations, archivists lay the groundwork for informed decision-making. This understanding allows archivists to shape their collections to align with the archives’ core values and objectives, ensuring that the institution remains a vital resource for education, research, and community engagement.

An archives’ mission is to collect, organize, and provide access to primary sources that document and illuminate our past. Archives serve as guardians of society’s memory, safeguarding historical artifacts that offer unique insights into the human experience. By maintaining these treasures, archives facilitate research, foster scholarly inquiry, and promote a deeper understanding of collective heritage. The mission of an archives goes beyond mere preservation; it seeks to bridge the gap between past and present, enabling individuals to connect with their roots, unravel narratives, and gain a profound appreciation for the diverse stories that have shaped our world.

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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