Missouri Historical Records Advisory Board

Best Practices for Local Archives and Repositories


Creating Collections

During the public Strategic Planning meetings, as discussions turned to this website, an audience member commented that their local historical society was overwhelmed with donated materials because people outside of the organization looked at them as “Grandma’s attic.” How do you keep control of materials your organization acquires, or, in professional–speak, accessions? How do you keep a collection from becoming “Grandma’s attic?” How can you get rid of, or deaccession, materials that either do not fit with your organization, or have no value?

To give you and your successors the ability to turn away donations, or get rid of items that do not fit your collection, there are polices that every institution should adopt. These are: Mission Statements and Collection Policies. Now, it is entirely up to you, how to craft these policies. Some institutions draft them separately, some as a single larger policy. Examples below are taken from a variety of institutions; there really is no wrong way to proceed.

To begin, you must define what your institution collects and preserves. Are you going to collect items related to your region, county, or town? What types of items will you collect—records, objects, both? Developing and adhering to a collection policy will also reduce competition for collections between cultural institutions and increase cooperation among them.

Sample Collection Development Policies

The following sample policies come from institutions of varying sizes. They are provided as examples of given policies; you are not required to adopt any of them.