Cookie Consent by

Collections management

Accessioning: adding items to your community archive

Accession form

An accession form is used to record the acquisition of an individual item or a collection of items. It is a legal title agreeing to the transfer of a collection’s ownership (in this case from the donor of the collection to the community archive). You will need to create a form for your community archive. Download a sample accession form. 

It’s helpful to fill in the form in the presence of the donor or depositor to make sure the details are accurate. They should be given a copy of the completed form for their reference.

An accession form include:

  • The name, address and contact details of your community archive, you can include your website (if you have one)
  • A unique reference number for each entry – which could be the group’s initials, followed by the current year, then a consecutive number
  • The name, address and contact details of the donor or depositor. It may also be useful to note the contact details of the donor’s next of kin or executor
  • The date of receipt – when the documents are received (eg 04/10/2020; keep the format consistent)
  • The date the item was created, if it’s just one thing, or if multiple items, the date span the collection covers(eg 1950s–1990s)
  • The title of the collection or item (eg Helen Smith Collection)
  • The quantity and storage formats of material (eg 2 boxes, 3 folders, 5 CDs)
  • A brief description of the contents (eg local history research, physical and digital photographs, digital film files, sketches, diaries and notebooks)

An accession form also includes information as to whether the item is a loan or a gift. In most cases, it is simpler if items are accessioned as a gift, as you have much more control over how they are managed. If you choose to accession items as loans you will need to establish:

  • The terms on which the loan is accepted
  • The loan period, for example if you are taking possession of a document for copying, this may be for a short time. We recommend short-term loans are no longer than 3 months, these can also be referred to as temporary deposits.
  • Liability – make sure that the lender understands that you cannot be liable for loss or damage to their items when they are in your custody

Accession register

An accession register is an official record of each group of materials in an accession. It can be used to collate the information from individual accession forms.

It provides number control - so you can see at a glance the reference numbers of each accession and track them.

It can be a simple table created on a spreadsheet or in a bound notebook or ledger. It is useful to have it in both formats. Download a sample accession register.

If you haven’t already got a register, you can enter your current collections into your new register retrospectively, recording information to the best of your knowledge. Add each new item or collection of items as they are accessioned into your archive.

An accession register records much of the information collected in your accession form, starting with the unique reference number of the item or collection of items. The accession number is different to the catalogue reference which individual items will be assigned when you get to the cataloguing stage.

In addition to the information from your accession form, the register then also records

  • The name of the person receiving the records
  • The location where the collections or items have been stored, such as a shelf reference number
  • And lastly, if the accession is on loan, there should be space to record the date it was returned

When storing the collection, note where you store the new accession – you can use a spreadsheet to keep track of what is kept on each shelf or in each cupboard. If necessary, indicate the number of parts, for example part 1 of 5. This allows you to check if something has gone missing.

Record the location even if it is going to be temporary. It’s good to have location control over your collections in case of an emergency, and so everyone knows where the accessions are stored, not just the person who received it.

Collections management survey:

Fill out this survey to let us know your thoughts on the collections management guide.