Most museums have a collection management policy. These are generally board-approved documents that outline how collection items are to be acquired and documented; managed, cared for, and used; and, if appropriate, “deaccessioned” or permanently removed from the collection.
Many museums, including History Colorado, also have a collection plan. The collection plan articulates institutional values as they inform and shape collection-related activities and provides a framework for making decisions on what the museum collects.
History Colorado’s curatorial staff has been working on a new collection plan over the past year. For the first time in the planning process, we’re looking at the three collecting areas—archival materials, artifacts, and visual images—as an integrated whole instead of three separate collections. This is important because history doesn’t divide itself into discrete types of objects. Documenting the people, places, and events in Colorado’s history and selecting items for acquisition that embody those stories is most effective when purposefully and collaboratively undertaken.
The new plan identifies two primary goals for targeted collection growth:
Documenting late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first-century history in particular: contemporary issues and events, community leaders, and social change.
Building a more inclusive collection through the addition of materials that illuminate the stories of under-represented communities.
Contemporary collecting activities are predicated on building and nurturing relationships with individuals and diverse communities; and communication and coordination with colleague institutions to ensure that our efforts are complementary rather than duplicative.
The exhibit planning process can be a wonderful tool for collection development. It provides opportunities to build trust relationships with community members working with History Colorado to share their stories through the exhibit medium. Curatorial staff recently acquired artifacts and photographs documenting Chicano history in Colorado through relationships developed working on the El Movimiento: The Chicano Movement in Colorado exhibit team.
While our focus is directed towards contemporary collecting, History Colorado remains committed to rediscovering the stories embodied within the existing collection, and sharing them with current and future audiences. The Hart Research Library plays a key role in providing free public access to the collection, and we’re working to make sure that collection growth is responsive to evolving patron needs. Collections are a living resource. They grow and change over time and will continue to do so. History Colorado’s collection plan lays the groundwork for making thoughtful and sound decisions now and for the future so that the collection will continue to inspire generations to find wonder and meaning in our past and to engage in creating a better Colorado.