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Collection Development


Collection development is the process of building an archive’s holdings through acquisitions activities. It includes creating a collection policy, defining selection criteria and actively acquiring and accessioning collections. All archives should have a collecting focus; this may be defined by a specialist committee within an archive; it may be mandated by a country’s laws; it could be determined by the institution’s role in the community. What is important to keep in mind is that building a collection is a commitment which extends for an unlimited amount of time and requires careful decision making.

Collection policy and strategy
A collection policy defines an archive’s mission, general collecting areas (subjects, time periods, types of materials), user groups as well as a strategy for acquiring the material (usually through donations and purchase). A well defined policy will help an archive work proactively to get the collections it wants instead of only reacting to what may be offered. Such policies are also useful for potential users, who can use them to determine the relative utility of a collection for their purposes. It also helps assist in cooperative collection development with other archives. Cooperation with other archives ensures that limited resources will not be wasted.

Selection policy, selection criteria, appraisalSelecting and appraising acquisitions is one of the primary functions of an archive. All archives must be selective in their acquisition of material, both to establish and maintain a collection which is cohesive and worthy of the resources required to support it. No one has unlimited space or money to house and maintain collections.

The selection policy defines in detail what the archive will collect, what the limits of the collection will be and what types of material are of particular interest. It ensures that the collection develops in a controlled and organised manner and helps reduce the probability of personal biases affecting the collection of material. It provides the archive with a way to gracefully refuse material which does not match the selection criteria. The policy also serves to guide future archive staff on how the collection originally developed and ensures consistency over time.

Acquisition and accessioning The actual acquisition of material is a practical process involving the physical transfer of material to the archive and the contractual negotiation documenting the transfer. This contract should include information on future use and copyright associated with the material. Accessioning refers to registering the origins, creator, contents, format and extent of the material in a register, in such a way that it does not become mixed up with other material in the archive. It provides the basic level of control over the material. If time or resources are limited, it is better to have at least this basic control over all material in the collection than to have completely processed only a small part of the archive.