Course:2: Acquiring Your Collections
Lesson:Lesson 1: What Is a Collection Policy and What Does It Do?
Topic:Assessing Your Capabilities and Resources

Assessing Your Capabilities and Resources 

Before sitting down to write your collection policy, you should analyze your  goals and resources. Remember that when your program accepts historical records collections, it is making a commitment to take care of and provide access to those collections permanently. Acceptance of a collection is a very real commitment of your resources; so your policy needs to be based on an honest assessment of those resources.

Assignment icon

Use the Assess Your Resources Worksheet to record your answers to these questions for yourself and your program.

What are your program's financial resources? 

What money is available for staff salaries, supplies, and other items? Given your financial resources, should your collecting program be small, medium, or large in size and scope? Some archivists consider it unethical to collect materials that the organization cannot manage and make accessible.

How much space is available? 

Is your storage area full or empty, or somewhere in between? How much more can you collect before your storage area is filled? Collections come in many sizes. If you have a limited capacity to store collections, your policy should set parameters for the size of collections that you can accommodate.   

What kind of material can you take care of? 

Most programs collect historical records on paper. Other formats that can be collected include photographs, video, audio, microfilm, magnetic media, and optical media.

All of these formats require special storage and handling that are beyond the resources of some programs. For example, if you do not have microfilm readers and reader/printers, it is wise to specifically state in your collecting policy that you will not accept microfilm.

For what formats of records can you provide preservation and access? Your collection policy should be specific about what formats you will and will not accept.

Can your program support materials that are in poor physical condition? 

Materials that are deteriorating and in poor condition may require reformatting and/or work by a conservation specialist in order to ensure their survival and accessibility. Can you afford to reformat? Can you afford to hire a specialist in preservation or conservation treatments? 

Does your program have enough staff with training to manage the records and make them available? 

For example, if your program decides to collect historical records written in a native tribal language, or records on a particularly complex subject (molecular biology), will your staff (volunteer or paid) be able to understand and help users with the collections?

Who uses your collections? What kind of historical records interest them? 

The interests of your users should impact your collecting practices.  If your users are mostly genealogists, then collecting annual reports and scientific lab reports from a local business will not serve your users well.  This is a very practical concern for historical records programs; the need to collect material that users want.

Is there a collecting theme or focus that your historical records program wants to, or is mandated to, pursue?

Should you focus on a specific geographic area, a particular time period, a particular group of people, a specific event?  Do you have a format mandate to collect particular materials? 

Make sure you print out or save the Assess Your Resources Worksheet that you have used; you will be referring back to it in the next lesson.


 Dollar sign atop a pile of currency
Do you have the financial resources to manage and make accessible your collections?

 Warren County Archives
Do you have the space?

Microfilm reader
Can you support the media?

Old Russian passport
Can you support materials in poor condition?