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Collections management

What to consider before accepting items for your community archive

Surveying the collection

Before taking legal ownership of new material (accessioning), the first step is to survey it in a process known as an appraisal.

An appraisal is a survey of the collection to determine its research value. Think about the historic and social importance that an item or collection of items could have. Who created it, who used it, how was it used and for what purpose? Think how this affects the way you look after the items and how you make them available. Could they be digitized for online exhibition/research? Will you need to make copies of records if you think they will be a popular resource?

The research value may change over time and can be a matter of opinion which items have research value. If there is no clear agreement whether it should be kept, refer the issue to a professional archivist, which you can do by contacting the Norfolk Record Office at norfrec@norfolk.gov.uk.

It won’t be possible for you to include everything that is offered to you in your archive. When you are offered items, consider the following questions before you decide to take them.

Do the documents fit your collecting statement?

In your policy document you will have included a collecting statement.

Do the items you are being offered fit with this statement?

If not, you have two options:

  • Decline to take them in
  • Consider rewriting your collecting statement so that these and similar items offered in the future fit your policy

Do you have the resources to look after them?

If you do not have the resources to take in and manage the items that are offered, you may need to turn them down.

This might be because:

  • You do not have the right equipment to make use of them (eg a modern computer will not be able to show the information on a 1990s floppy disc)
  • You do not have the physical or digital space to store them
  • They contain sensitive information and you are not able keep them secure and confidential
  • They require special storage environments and handling

Should they be offered to another collecting body?

It may be necessary to direct items towards another organisation, eg if:

  • The items form part of a larger collection held elsewhere
  • They are official records which should go to a specified repository, eg school records should go to a local authority archive

If you choose to decline items, you may be able to direct them towards another organisation. This might be your local record office, museum or another community archive. Alternatively, you could put a notice on the Norfolk Archive Network Forum.

Some donors may want to place specific access conditions onto the items they donate, eg that their records can only be accessed after their death. It is reasonable for your archive to decline items that have these conditions attached to them.

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