Friday, July 10, 2009

Does Archival Selection Shape History? Part 1 of 2

Collection development and accessioning interests me because it is the starting point of all archival collections. I was also surprised that many institutions do not have collection policies, as noted in Sauer (2001), even though they could create drafts of their broad scope.

Sauer (2001) notes eloquently, “Written collection development policies are advocated as a way to ensure that collections have coherent and well-defined focus, while cooperative collecting practices are seen as a way to ensure that related materials are not scattered among far-flung repositories and that repositories’ scarce resources are not needlessly squandered on unnecessary competitiveness for collections” (308).

The archival profession has advanced enough that archivists have transitioned from collecting everything to choosing what to collect, given the abundance of 20th century materials. Archival selection shapes history because diplomatic choices must be made to represent the historical record.

Phillips (1984) notes collection policies seek to “eliminate future problems, lessen competition, and provide an avenue for deaccessioning,” and edits the ALA’s “Guidelines for the Formulation of Collection Development Policies” to use with manuscript collections (30). Phillips (1984) remarks that an archives acts unethically when the collecting policy is so vast that papers cannot be processed in a timely manner, effectively blocking them from research.

Endelman (1987) writes, “Use of the collection analysis methodology takes archivists away from their traditional role as custodians of the past and moves them toward a more active one as shapers of the historical record” (353). She reflects on collection analysis at Minnesota Historical Society, Sate Historical Society of Wisconsin, and Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. The studies revealed that even when archivists believed subjects were adequately covered, they were not. She mentions SAMDOK, a contemporary documentation program that led to a coordinated effort of all Swedish history museums to collect material representing the full spectrum of their national identity, which could be replicated in regional repositories in the United States.

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