Collection Development Policy Exercise

A big part of our community driven archives work is de-mystifying and simplifying the world of archives. Use this worksheet to help your community archive project decide on the scope and focus of your archive so you know what historical records to accept into your collection.

Download this worksheet as a template or a printable PDF:

Why is collection development important?

Collection development is the process of determining what belongs in your collection and what does not.

Who are you? What do you care about? How do your materials tell a story that no one else can tell? These are the questions at the heart of collection development work. This work is liberating because community collections are not bound by institutional traditions or expectations. Even if a large community fractures, nothing stops smaller groups of people from developing their own collection policies or even new institutions. 

These policies must be specific, because the work can get murky when groups can’t agree on their priorities or on shared definitions of what matters most. Ironically, collection development, which should be a source of liberation, often becomes a site of frustration and bottlenecks: If archival practitioners feel like they are missing opportunities to collect vital content or if they are having to remove something from the collection that is now out of scope, collection development can feel burdensome.  

If you are developing a community archive or trying to curate your own collection, we encourage you to move through the above template as an individual and/or within your group to clarify your intentions. 

While it may be tempting to gloss over this step by making a broad statement about what you collect or refusing to make one at all, we caution against this. Tough decisions will come up, whether you have prepared for them or not. Collection development can act as a shield when you are offered materials that aren’t in line with your priorities. If you feel you are being pulled in too many directions, these policies can make your collections stronger and more focused. Lastly, you will want clear collection priorities to ensure that project resources are being used transparently and equitably. 

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