Collection development policy work (and how you can help)

The newly-formed Best Practices Subcommittee, working under the auspices of the Acquisitions and Appraisal Section Steering Committee, has begun a project to collect samples of acquisition and collection development policies from institutions across the United States and internationally.

This is the second project for this subcommittee to tackle since its inception (the first was a survey of abandoned museum and archives property statutes throughout the US, the subject of a recent Archival Outlook article, available online). It was chosen as a high priority for several reasons: collection development policies are central to the work of acquisition and appraisal, and therefore to the rest of the work conducted by an archives; reviewing existing policies can help other institutions refrain from reinventing the wheel; and because members of the section and beyond have requested more resources and help when developing and writing their own institution’s policies. The project has already sparked a great deal of interest, and we’ll be glad to share our findings after we analyze our available data.

To date, several individuals have volunteered their institutional policies to the subcommittee; the subcommittee has also found several policies made publicly available online. Most of these policies originate from academic repositories or state historical societies.  The number of examples received from other institutional types or found online remains low. The subcommittee is exploring ways to increase participation from other types of repositories.

Several repositories have been unwilling and/or unable to share their policies, due to policies being out-of-date or reworked, and not ready to be shared publicly.  Institutions may also not be thinking about their documentation as policy. The SAA glossary defines an acquisition policy as “An official statement issued by an archives or manuscript repository identifying the kinds of materials it accepts and the conditions or terms that affect their acquisition,” (and relates the term collection development to this type of policy), but the subcommittee is aware that many organizations rely on other document types when appraising potential collections to acquire. These documents may be embedded in larger institutional policies (particularly if an archives is part of a larger institution, such as a museum or library); the institution may communicate this information separately from a  formal collections “policy” that nonetheless governs how the institution chooses what to acquire. The information may also be embedded in statutory language or legal mandates and agreements.  

For the present, we encourage individuals to respond to our call, even if their acquisition criteria fall under other document types, including donor guidelines, gift agreements, records retention schedules, information about what your institution will take as provided on your website, etc.

Potential outcomes for this project include a policy portal for other institutions to review published policies for inspiration, guidance documents, and templates for institutions that lack or need to update a policy. Other possible final products are possible, based on what additional data we can gather.

You can help!  To gather more information to guide our work, the subcommittee has developed a very brief, anonymous survey. This should take no more than 5–10 minutes to complete and will provide insights the Best Practices Subcommittee can use to develop its next steps in providing useful tools for archivists, collection managers, and administrators.  You can find the survey here:  We plan to keep the survey open until December 15, 2016.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the subcommittee’s co-chairs, who are also members of the Acquisitions & Appraisal Section’s Steering Committee:  Marcella Huggard, and Julie May,

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