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I wanted to share with you two ideas that have really helped me in writing a new edition of our Collection Development Policy for Special Collections at Bradford.

J.B. Priestley at his typewriter in a Moscow hotel in 1945.

J.B. Priestley thinking hard, at his typewriter in a Moscow hotel in 1945. Part of our J.B. Priestley Archive, a collection which is unique and distinctive and very definitely Heritage.

Collecting decisions are the most important decisions in Special Collections – if you take something, you are committing resources to it indefinitely. If you don’t take it, there probably won’t be a second chance. Also, it is becoming more and more important to collect in a strategic way. We increasingly must account for our use of physical space and staff resources.  This use becomes more noticeable as print collections are managed down.  Digital records will have to be collected pro-actively, by working with creators as they create: this is timeconsuming and must be justified.

So, any ideas that help us make and justify decisions are worth exploring.

Unique and distinctive
I increasingly use these terms to explain “Special Collections”. They explain what is “special”. The terms move us away from talking about market value and age as measures of “specialness”.  These may explain why things should not be on open shelves, but don’t explain why we are keeping them and investing in them.  Instead, “unique and distinctive” help us to think about the subjects and nature and qualities of the objects in collections and their role within those collections.  They also help us look beyond the silos of archives/libraries/museums to understand the common qualities of heritage materials and their management.

The “Leeds typology”
I borrowed a typology used by Leeds University Library for their stock and tweaked it to meet Special Collections needs.

  • Heritage. Unique and distinctive collections which are your stars, the ones that you are uniquely placed to nurture, the ones that have a resonance with your organisation, its region, and its subject strengths. Examples from Bradford include J.B. Priestley, the University’s own history, and our collections around nonviolence and peace campaigning.
  • Legacy. Unique and distinctive collections you might not accept now, that fall outside your core, BUT that are useful and are justifying themselves. We have several small, catalogued, well-used collections of this sort that we are happy to keep but we won’t invest in developing them further.
  • Self-renewing. Material that is collected because it is useful now to staff and collections users, and that will ultimately be replaced when no longer of use. Reference books, manuals, standards, textbooks, bibliographies etc.  Self-renewing is a very small proportion of our Special Collections: I think we have about 2 shelves worth out of 1.5 km!
  • Finite. Material that is not or is no longer relevant. We aim to deaccession as much of this as we possibly can. Obviously how one goes about this depends on whether it is unique and distinctive or not.

The typology is proving useful not only for collection management.  For example, it is helping us to set salvage priorities and to direct staff learning (i.e. new Special Collections staff are expected to become familiar with all our heritage clusters but not necessarily all our legacy or other collections).