Monday, July 20, 2009

Does Archival Selection Shape History? Part 2 of 2

Kaplan (2000) examines the role of archives and archivists with identity, because archivists preserve “the props with which notions of identity are built. In turn, notions of identity are confirmed and justified as historical documents validate their authority” (126). She traces the roots of the American Jewish Historical Society, founded by a diverse group of American Jews, with a common purpose to collect records to show their patriotism and value to American society. We are lucky enough to have the stenographic record of their founding meeting. Kaplan writes, “The archival record doesn’t just happen; it is created by individuals and organizations, and used, in turn to support their values and missions, all of which comprises a process that is certainly not politically and culturally neutral” (147).

Sauer (2001) reports on a survey of 80 manuscript repositories to see if they have collection development policies or cooperative collecting activities. She wanted to demonstrate the benefits of using both and to discover why some repositories did neither. She writes, “Although based on a small sample, the survey results clearly demonstrate the usefulness of written collection development policies (especially in dealing with one of the most unpredictable and untamable forces in archival collecting—donors), while engaging in cooperative collecting understandings was shown to increase the degree to which referrals for collections are made to, or received from, other repositories” (331).

Although the phrase “collection development” (and perhaps some of the theory) originated from libraries, the concept is important for archives because it guides acquisitions and the scope of the collections.

I admired how Phillips applied collection development concepts from library science to the archives, especially examining the present strengths of the collection, present collecting level, present identified weaknesses, and desired level of collecting to meet program needs.

Works Cited

Endelman, J. E. (1987). Looking backward to plan for the future: Collection analysis for the manuscript repositories. American Archivist. 50, 340-355.

Kaplan, E. (2000). We are what we collect, we collect what we are: Archives and the construction of identity. American Archivist. 65, 126-151.

Phillips, F. (1984). Developing collecting policies for manuscript collections. American Archivist. 47, 30-41.

Sauer, C. K. (2001). Doing the best we can?: The use of collection development policies and cooperative collecting activities at manuscript repositories. American Archivist. 64, 308-349.

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