November 20, 2018 • History Factory
Having a comprehensive archive is important in order for organizations to maximize their history and experiences. Archives can drive sales, marketing, legal, culture and organizational purpose initiatives. In this article, archivists Jennifer Andreola and Emilia Mahaffey share their perspective on the best way to fill gaps in a collection.
Archival collections represent the tangible history of a company, institution or organization. For a collection to be useful and most accurately represent the company, it should cover as many time periods as possible through a variety of different types as materials. Often, however, there are gaps in the collection that need to be filled. These gaps may seem insignificant until a researcher seeks information or a specific item and comes up empty-handed. So how does an organization or collection fill in the gaps?
The most effective way to get started is by developing a key archival strategy document: the acquisition policy. A well-thought-out acquisition policy has a number of components, typically including the purpose of the archive, acquisition guidelines and any format requirements. It often points to any gaps in time or in types of materials that are preventing the collection from accurately representing the history of the company.
Another way to characterize these under-documented areas is by identifying the main collecting areas for the archive itself. Identifying these areas and then defining them gives the reader a clear sense of the purpose of the archive and can help them consider materials that they may donate or request from potential donors. Providing a visual representation of how these collecting areas break down is usually helpful to communicators. Here is a diagram, used in some policies, that provides examples of types of materials to acquire. It demonstrates the importance of the areas by using differing sizes for each collecting area.
It is then useful to list specific formats, events or time periods within these collecting areas that are lacking in the current collection. Desired assets may include two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects, and may be as diverse as advertisements, press releases and commemorative items. In order to encourage collection of the most desired materials, providing descriptions of lesser-known formats and examples can be useful. In many cases, a digital surrogate is preferred to a physical item because it takes up less shelf space and can help preserve the original. If this route is preferred, the policy must state the desired file characteristics and formats. Specifications give the target audience a better idea of what the archive wishes to acquire and keeps the archive from receiving items that aren’t needed.
Once a policy is finalized, it must be distributed to key people within the organization, which may include key communicators, retirees or leads in various departments. Without this step, the materials will never find their way into the archive. These people can subsequently share policy information with others to aid in the collection process. If organizations follow these steps, then the archive should receive materials from a wide variety of sources.
Once all the collecting areas and desired formats have been outlined, a process for transferring materials to the archive should be established. The first step is usually to identify a point person who represents the archive and will ensure the materials meet the criteria for acquisition. This point person will orchestrate the transfer of material to the archive and ensure that the materials, physical and digital, are appropriately accessioned.
The most practical way to fill gaps in the collection is through donations. As mentioned above, key communicators, retirees and department leads are good starting places for this effort. A short version of the acquisition policy that briefly explains the purpose of the archive and outlines the collecting areas and resource types can be especially helpful. This brief explanation can be disseminated via e-mail, in person at corporate events and via other internal communication channels.
Having a day when an archivist or the point person is available for drop-offs of acquisitions is also a good way to accumulate donations for the archive.
If donations are difficult to acquire and there is a particularly compelling gap—for example, something linked to the founding of the company or a key turning point—purchasing items for the collection is an option. However, because many archives do not have significant funding, it is important to focus as much time and energy as possible on donation strategies.
Disseminating an acquisition policy is a great way to connect a company’s people to the archive effort. Donating materials often makes employees feel more invested in the archive, helping to ensure its success today and into the future.