Course:4: Housing Your Collections
Lesson:Lesson 2: Security Planning
Topic:Collection Management and Security


Collection Management and Security 

Collection security means making sure that historical records don’t disappear. Anyone—including staff, users, maintenance and housekeeping staff—could be the source of a security problem. Managing your collections well is a vital component of security. You won’t know if something is missing from a collection if you don’t know what you have and where it is!  

Some collection management activities that will increase the security of your collections are to:

  • Periodically inventory all your collections so you know what you have and where it is.
  • Organize storage areas for quick and easy inspections. Staff should be able to notice quickly if something is missing or out of place. Boxes should be clearly labeled and in an obvious order, so missing items are noticed easily.
  • Create procedures to check collections before and after researchers have used them to make sure collections are intact. Staff should look at the collections before use to make sure the collection is complete and again after use, to make sure nothing is missing.
  • Use call slips, sign-out sheets, and other records to track the use of collections.
  • Never allow researchers unsupervised use of any materials.
  • Keep backup copies of all your finding aids. Finding aids provide detailed information about the collection, helpful both to staff and researchers, but they may be at risk for theft or loss.
  • Record a description and possibly an image of particularly valuable materials to help with identification and recovery if a theft occurs. If possible, provide insurance coverage for particularly valuable materials.

Umbrella--"protection for a rainy day"
Insurance coverage is an important  way to protect your collection.


Employee Theft 

Unfortunately, even with good collection management practices, there are incidents of employee theft. Here are some warning signs you should look for if you suspect staff theft:

  • Materials are consistently in the wrong place or hidden.
  • The same person is reporting missing materials or is always the one to find missing materials.
  • A staff person who is unconcerned about materials that are reported missing.
  • Inconsistent documentation and record keeping for collections.
  • A staff member who consistently disregards established rules and procedures. 

Patron Management 

Patron theft and vandalism can also be a problem. There are many reported incidents of users stealing historical items. Some precautions you should take are to: 

  • Require researchers to present a valid photo identification card before using collections; some programs make copies of the identification and add it to the user’s file.
  • Enforce rules for researchers, such as leaving all personal belongings in a particular area, limiting the number of items from a collection a researcher can use at one time, and rechecking collections when the researcher is finished with them.
  • Close the storage areas to researchers; have staff retrieve the items and deliver them to the researcher.
  • Control access to the area the researchers use; have only one exit that requires users to walk past a reference desk or other staffed area.
  • Supervise researchers; always have someone in the room who can see researchers clearly.
  • Know what’s in your collection so you can tell when something is missing.
  • Use and retain call slips so you can track what a particular researcher used.



Security Camera

Fact icon

The U.S. National Archives maintains records of collection use, such as call slips, for 25 years since they could prove invaluable in a theft investigation.