Collecting Drivers for Higher Education Institutions with Archives and Unique and Distinctive Collections

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This report presents the findings of research commissioned by RLUK and TNA into the nature of archive material held in higher education institutions; the rationale for its collection; and how it is used to contribute to institutional missions, aims and objectives. The outcomes from the research will serve to inform future support for the higher education archive sector in the areas of advocacy, collaboration and information-sharing; and will further strengthen the working relationship between RLUK, TNA and the constituencies they represent. 

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) hold a substantial proportion of the UK’s archival heritage. The aim of the research was to examine the collecting drivers for archival collections within HEIs with unique and distinctive collections (UDCs) and to consider the degree to which these drivers align with changing drivers in contemporary research and learning environments.

In addition to scrutinizing existing literature, outputs were derived from original research into unique and distinctive collections using survey, in-depth interview and workshop approaches. Research yielded 42 survey responses representing a broad constituency of HEIs and 7 in-depth interviews.

Drivers were considered in relation to core HEI aims. Within the cohort, excellence in research and teaching were the highest priority (for 95%), followed by student experience (93%) and excellence in learning (88%). Other objectives such as internationalisation and partnerships were also relevant to the collecting function.

Substantial information about collections and content indicate wide subject coverage; and the existence of gaps, risks and vulnerable collecting areas were identified. Most Special Collections and Archives (SCAs) collect material in support of institutional research, teaching and learning, supplying many useful examples of innovative practice.

A significant majority (83%) maintain a policy that outlines their collecting ambitions. Over half support a pro-active Collection Development Policy setting out what an SCA more actively seeks to acquire (59%). For many, access to information about the content of UK Unique and Distinctive Collections (UDCs) and collecting policies would assist pro-active collecting and the development of the ‘national distributed collection’.

SCAs and others holding UDCs operate most effectively in developing collections when:

  • Direct access and the opportunity to contribute to HEI policy, aims and objectives enable the SCA to respond effectively and appropriately
  • Robust and regular links between the UDC and the academic environment are in place so that proactive and relevant research, teaching, learning and engagement activities can be developed
  • Able to pursue the HEI’s ‘unique and distinctive’ requirement while maintaining genuine collaboration with professional colleagues and in partnerships
  • Capable of balancing the long-term requirements and curatorial responsibilities for collections with the agility to respond proactively to shorter term institutional requirements

This report can be used as:

  • A resource to support the further development of programmes that align with RLUK and TNA current agenda
  • A basis of shared information which can inform HEIs about wider collecting practices and support future planning, collaboration and use of their collections
  • A means to enhance the visibility of HEI unique and distinctive collections in Special Collections and Archives to the wider academic and archival communities to encourage further collaboration and partnership
  • Evidence of the benefits and constraints accruing from aligning collecting drivers with strategic policy objectives to inform future initiatives
  • A means of advocacy for and dissemination of information about the contribution that Special Collections and Archives with UDCs make to institutional research, teaching, learning and wider community objectives
Collecting drivers report cover

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Top image courtesy of the University of Bristol Library

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