Among all the problems facing archivists and collection librarians is one of selectivity. While they face issues of preservation, storage, and accessibility, one they may not have expected is the crisis of simply having too much stuff. Stuff is good, but too much can be a burden. A consequence of the Boomer Generation’s acquisitive nature is that now those same collecting Boomers are aging, and getting rid of their stuff. Donations are rising dramatically among libraries, institutions, archives, and other repositories of the cultural artifacts of our civilization.
Music libraries and archives, in particular, confront the dilemma of generous donations of records, CDs, and music memorabilia in – pardon – record numbers. There are a lot of people in their 70s and 80s who just don’t or can’t deal with 10,000 LPs or 5,000 CDs or 12,000 78 rpm discs… And they could probably use the tax deduction for a donation.
But the archive that opens its arms to such donations runs a few risks. Can they manage the volume of material in their existing space? Are the records already cataloged or do they need to do that from scratch? How much cleaning and preservation will they need? What will they do about digitizing the vinyl and providing access to different types of potential users?
As a consultant on these issues, I see one overarching concern about accepting large collections: How does the incoming material match your existing collection?
An archivist should ask if this is really a good thing or a bad thing for their particular needs. How will it alter or shape the essential purpose of your collection? I like to help librarians and archivists take a good, hard look at their collection and answer some of these questions. I love to help focus a collection to make it a better resource, a more impressive resource, and, potentially, a more valuable resource.
After all, there are only so many Mantovani, Monkees, and Madonna records one can handle.