Mission & Collection Development Policy


The collection development policy of Williams College Archives & Special Collections is planned to serve as a tool to guide the department's staff in making informed decisions regarding potential acquisitions. The policy is, therefore, a component of the department's appraisal process through which material is acquired for the College's collections. The guidelines also seek to ensure an appropriate balance between the department's resources and its commitments.

Mission statement 

Williams College Archives & Special Collections was established to appraise, collect, organize, describe, preserve, and make available the College's records of permanent administrative, legal, fiscal and historical value. It facilitates the efficient management of the recorded information produced by the College's units and offices. The Archives also serves as a repository for non-official historical materials relating to the history of the College, its founders, faculty, students, administrators, staff and alumni. In addition, the department administers several of the College's special collections, most notably the Paul Whiteman Collection, the Shaker Collection, and Sawyer Library's rare book collections.

As part of its mission, the Archives provides facilities for the retention, preservation, and research use of its collections. The department serves as a research center for the study of the College's history, and for the investigation of select topics of regional, national or international significance. Collections are made available, College and donor restrictions permitting, to members of the College community, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, and serious researchers from the general public.

The Archives serves in a public relations capacity by promoting knowledge and understanding of the origins, programs and goals of the College, and strengthens the College's curriculum in offering primary historical sources for study. The department accomplishes these goals through the acquisition, processing and preservation of collections; its reference and research services; and such outreach activities as the development and installation of exhibitions, the production of publications in a variety of formats, and offering tours, classes and workshops dealing with topics such as the history of the College, research methods, preservation management and conservation techniques, and archival programming.

General collecting guidelines

In general, the department collects in areas that:
• support the College's curriculum and the research interests of its students and faculty;
• anticipate future research needs;
• support the Archives' existing collections;
• extend the Archives' research strengths, interests, and needs;
• show a high ratio of use to volume, condition, and processing costs; and
• complement rather than compete with the collecting priorities of other regional special collections repositories

Acquisitions are normally made through transfer from a College office or department, donation, or purchase. If the donation is of original unpublished material that is still in copyright, a legal deed of gift or release is sought from the donor. An acknowledgment is sent to the donor for gifts of other material that are accepted for the collections. Prospective donors of material outside the scope of the Collection Policy will normally be referred to other repositories that collect in the area/s described by that material.

College archives: the official records

As part of its mission, the Archives collects and preserves College records possessing permanent administrative, legal, fiscal and historical value. The purpose of collecting such records is to provide documentation of the development and growth of the College, in particular its primary functions of teaching and research, its role in the community at large, the activities of its student body and alumni, and the development of its physical plant and grounds. Records are also collected in order to adhere to federally- and state-mandated records retention requirements.

The Archives works with offices and departments of the College to appraise the records that they create in the course of their activities and to select those that should be preserved for future use. Priority is given to those records that reflect the activities of College officers and committees that formulate or approve College or division-wide policy as well as faculty and administrative involvement in these activities.

Recorded information documenting College activities is collected regardless of format, and may include: paper, microforms, films, discs, electronic files, etc. The Archives acquires a variety of document types: administrative papers and files; publications, reports, and other printed material; photographs, and other pictorial material; maps and blueprints; sound recordings; moving image material; and ephemera and memorabilia.

Archival records deemed not of permanent value are held in storage until they can be legally destroyed by shredding or incineration, depending upon the information contained in those records.

Williamsiana: supporting historical materials

The department acquires a wide variety of historical material, or "Williamsiana," to support and augment the official records of the College. This material may include, but is not limited to: manuscripts, student theses, visual materials, oral histories, artifacts, works published by faculty and alumni, student newspapers and periodicals, local history collections, and published reference works.

Manuscripts – The department collects manuscript material, including:
• students' personal papers, especially those that illuminate life at the College;
• personal and professional papers of Williams faculty and administrators that document their teaching, administrative and/or research careers and the development of the College's curriculum;
• records of clubs, societies and institutes established and maintained by Williams students and other College personnel;
• papers of select noted alumni, especially those who have been active in the areas of missionary work and the ministry, international affairs, art history, and higher education;
• course syllabi;
• materials relating to the Williams family, the French and Indian War in our extended geographic area, and the founding of the College;
• Bachelor's theses in all disciplines and the major papers of students in the Development Economics course. Beginning in 2005, Master's theses in Art History will also be maintained at the Archives and by the Clark Art Institute Library. (Papers in other undergraduate courses are ordinarily not acquired unless they document Williams College, the history of our region, or a significant shift in curricular trends).

Visual Material – The department acquires a variety of visual material, including photographs in all formats, slides, negatives, films, videos, prints, scrapbooks, albums, postcards, and letterheads. Subject matter must relate to Williams College, our geographic area, or the lives of our students, staff and faculty. Every effort is made to forward offers of fine art, such as oil portraits and exclusive printings of intaglio or lithographic processes, to the Williams College Museum of Art.

Oral Histories – The Archives maintains the tapes, transcripts, and records produced by the College's Oral History Program, and may accept oral histories of Williams individuals produced by other Williams College students, faculty or staff, or by other colleges and universities.

Artifacts – Artifacts are acquired for the College's historical collections if the Archives judges it can properly preserve and provide access to them. Priority is given to items that document College life. Due to storage and preservation issues, offers of fine and decorative arts are normally forwarded to the Williams College Museum of Art.

Published Works – Acquired and/or made available are published works, regardless of format, which concern the history of the College, its alumni, faculty and staff, and our geographic area. These may include:
• newspapers, journals, magazines, handbooks and yearbooks produced by the student body, student clubs, and alumni classes;
• material pertaining to the history of our local geographic area, especially that which supports inquiries into the relations between the College and its community (in this area, every effort is made to complement rather than compete with the Williamstown House of Local History);
• works authored by tenured members of the faculty;
• works by Williams alumni, especially if they relate to missionary work or the ministry, international affairs, higher education or the history of Williams College;
• biographies and autobiographies of Williams alumni, staff, faculty and donors;
• reference works and databases that support research performed with primary sources.

Special collections

The Special Collections arm of the department supports several topical collections with few or no connections to the history of Williams College.

Rare book collections – Special Collections maintains materials acquired by the College Library that are deemed rare and/or difficult to replace due to their value, age, condition, format or subject matter. In addition, the department collects books and pamphlets, from primarily the 18th century through the present, in such topical areas as:
• William Cullen Bryant,
• the French and Indian War,
• life, especially missionary activities and education, in 19th-century Hawaii,
• slavery and abolition in the United States, and
• international law and diplomacy.

Special Collections also maintains the libraries of the Philologian and Philotechnican Societies, comprising titles acquired by the student members of this literary and debating club.

Paul Whiteman Collection -- The department collects material that documents directly the life and career of Paul Whiteman, and may acquire collections pertaining to the careers of associated composers, arrangers and band members as they relate to Whiteman. Such material may include manuscripts, pictorial material, motion picture film and videos, sound recordings, ephemera and research materials.

Shaker Collection -- Special Collections acquires material produced from the 18th through the 20th centuries both by and about the Shakers. Acquisitions may include manuscripts, photographs, microforms, printed material and ephemera, and are especially sought in the areas of:
• general Shaker theology,
• the history of the New Lebanon community,
• spirit messages, and
• Shaker hymnals.

Cooperative agreements

While the Archives maintains no official cooperative acquisitions agreements, the department works unofficially with other repositories and College offices to ensure that prospective donations are offered to the institution/office that may best be able to preserve the material and to provide access to it. Institutions and offices with which the Archives currently works closely include the Chapin Library of Rare Books, the Williams College Museum of Art, the Williamstown House of Local History, the North Adams Public Library, and the Berkshire Athenaeum.

Policy review and de-accession

The Collection Development Policy will be reviewed periodically to ensure that it reflects the College's collecting needs. If at any time donated material is deemed outside the scope of the Archives' collecting plan or otherwise unsuitable for the collections, it will be considered for de-accession. The Archives will normally consider several options for de-accession: return of the material to the donor, return of the material to the donor's family, donation of the material to another College office, donation of the material to another repository, or destruction of the material.

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