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Collections management

Relationship with the Donor

If you are able to, build up a relationship with the donor of a collection. It’s a good idea to ask them some questions about the collection - what is in it, how much of it is there, do they have anything else, what is the background or history of the collection? This will allow you to make decisions on whether the collection is relevant to your collecting policy and whether the donor is happy to take some items back, or is happy for you to dispose of them or offer them to another group.

The donor can also flag up if they are aware of any records of a sensitive nature, or any potential data protection issues, so you can make a decision whether to close records for a period of time.

It is a good idea to encourage collections to be donated as gifts, where the donor agrees their ownership is to be transferred to the community archive. Loans, also known as deposits, are given to an archive without their legal ownership being transferred. This often presents practical problems, liabilities and potential costs which can be very difficult for small, voluntary-run organisations to manage. Sometimes digitizing a collection and returning it is the best possible option if the owner does not wish to part with the originals permanently.

Other options you may want to consider are:

  • A bequest or
  • A purchase where ownership is passed to the organisation
  • Transfer from within your organisation if you have different branches or areas of responsibility, so ownership is retained by your organisation
  • Temporary deposit, usually for the purpose of digitisation or exhibition

When accepting a new accession to the archive you need to

  • Ensure that the person giving you material is authorised to do so – for example power of attorney over a relative living with dementia who are the actual owners of the collection
  • Have a name for the donor or depositor. It could be an organization, an individual, family, estate of a deceased person, auctioneers etc
  • If receiving from an organisation, make sure to get the direct contact for an individual
  • Try and get as many forms of contact as possible – address, phone and email
  • Gather as much information about the collection as you can from the donor, either in person or via your email communications
  • This process is a negotiation with the depositor / donor as to what you can do with the items, discuss what’s open to access, and copyright or licencing agreements
  • If records contain information relating to a living individual, could their release to the public cause, ‘substantial damage and distress’. If so, apply restricted access for a defined time, and assume people live to 100.
  • Ownership of copyright is different to ownership of the records – the donor and depositor is not always the same as the copyright holder, so check what can be assigned
  • Copyright is complex and often misattributed – it’s good to familiarise yourself with how it’s applicable to archives, and to apply caution when taking in a collection. Ask questions and do some digging!
  • The accession form just allows the depositor to transfer copyright if they wish to – they don’t have to
  • Ask permission from the donor to destroy unwanted records, or pass to pass them on to another collecting organisation