Writing a Collection Development Policy

Archives and special collection development policies should state what the organization currently holds and the collecting areas, especially records of enduring value that represent the organizations' history. A policy will not only formalize the archives program, but it will allow you to focus on what you would like to acquire as well as to disregard materials that fall outside of the collection. Focusing on what you will not collect will also allow you to deaccession materials that should not be in the collection.

The policy should be a public document, made available on the organization's website and shared with stakeholders, organizations collecting in similar areas, and with select national and international organizations. 

A recent client was preparing to launch a formal archives and special collections program after years of informally collecting materials. After my two-day visit, I wrote an evaluation report to guide their work in setting up the archives with short, mid-range, and long-term goals. Step one was to write and get approved a formal collection development policy, since all other activities stem from this document. 

All archives and special collection development policies should consider the following: 

  • Under what authority does your program operate or is governed? 
  • Who makes decisions about what to accept? Major acquisitions may need approval at a high level. 
  • What is the purpose of the program?
  • What is the history of the program within the organization? 
  • Who is your audience? Who uses your archives and special collections? 
  • What is the focus of the collection? List the subjects, people, timeframes, and geographic areas your program focuses on. Describe the kinds of materials your program collects.
  • What formats can the repository responsibly manage?
  • For book collections, what are your policies on editions (firsts, impressions, dust jackets, reprints, paperbacks, translations) and duplicates?
  • How will materials be accepted into the collections? Will records be actively sought? Will collections be bought and from what funds? Who will approve acceptance of materials? Through what means will legal custody be obtained?
  • Will loans of materials be made to other organizations and will they be accepted by your organization? Under what circumstances? What are the conditions of the loan and for its termination?
  • Are you legally required to collect certain kinds of materials? 
  • How do you handle issues of ownership and title, copyright, data protection, and freedom of information? What materials will have limited access because of these issues?
  • How will you handle preservation issues? Will you take items in poor condition and, if so, under what circumstances? 
  • How does this collection policy fit into the collecting policies of other libraries? Who else collects in your subjects and region? Can you work together for mutual benefit?
  • Under what authority and circumstances will unwanted materials be removed from the collections? What procedures will be used to document this activity?
  • How often will the policy be reviewed? Regular review can uncover issues that have caused problems, the impact of new collections, and changes in technologies and practices.

What else should be included? What organizations have particularly well-crafted collection policies? 

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