Understanding a Collection

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Created by Julie Goucher, Jan 2015 using Wordle

There comes a point when you have collected enough of your chosen entity that you have a collection and at some point there are decisions to be made about it.

According to Christopher Bart in “Industrial firms and the power of mission” Industrial Marketing Management 26 (4) pp 371 – 383 there are three key elements.

  1. Key Market – Who is the chosen item aimed at?
  2. Contribution – What does the chose item provide to the wider audience?
  3. Distinction – What makes the chosen item unique over others?

These three elements do not exactly fit a collection, but they go some way to present a suitable structure of key indicators.

In my experience as a family and local historian a collection forms as a natural stage of research. I do not believe that any of us make a conscious decision to collect every postcard of X, every piece of pottery made by X or every occurrence of a name in a location or of every instance of every name in a location. A collection quite simply happens, a result of a catalyst.

In which case why did it happen and how are you going to deal with it in the future?

Create a mission / purpose statement with the following:

  • How did the collection come to be created and by whom?
  • Who is it created for? and has that changed?
  • How will it be maintained or grow?
  • How will it be accessed by others?
    • Does it need to be?
  • How will you advertise your collection?
  • How do you ensure the longevity of your collection?
  • How is the collection kept?
  • How will you ensure copyright and ownership issues are protected and addressed?
  • Do others have any investment in the collection? (investment does not necessarily mean financial)
  • Is the collection unique?

Recognise you have a collection.

What sort of number makes a collection? two, four, six, ten or more? Does the number matter? or is the crucial thing whether you are actively adding to, or looking to add to what you already have.

Three black pens on your desk could be seen as a collection. The chances are that they are simply there. A gathering of pens collected from hotels, conferences and other people! If you are actively looking to add to the number does that make it collection? If they are not cheap disposables, but rather flashing Mont Blanc fountain pens does that make a difference?

In order to recognise you have a collection consider the following:

  • Set your parameters.
  • Consider each collection separately.
  • Write your collection scope (See list above)
  • Is your collection fit for purpose? – Is it what you intended it to be?
    • References sourced (sound familiar!)
    • Will the parameters of the collection change in the future?
  • Is a collection the same as a set?

Cataloguing a Collection.

There is some freely available Museum archiving software available. I have not tried either of them and therefore simply provide the links here as an option:

For prolific readers and book collectors there is LibraryThing which I do use and recommend. You can view my LibraryThing Profile.

I have opted to use a spreadsheet, as this can be tweaked and developed in order to reflect several collections in one file. You can access a copy that I have created via Google Drive.

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