Collection Development

(Methods used to evaluate artifacts for inclusion)

by Rachael-Joy Cowham

For this project, what is most important is that we attempt to capture and preserve information that is helpful to the public now, and that will tell future historians something about our society and civilization in 2009. Since we are focusing on Web 2.0 tools and society, we will also be capturing our civic engagement with these online tools and how people are teaching themselves to gather the information they need to get and stay healthy.

While each team member certainly established his or her own methods to evaluate each artifact selected for inclusion into this virtual time capsule, there are general guidelines that each team member should follow to ensure proper preservation of each artifact. Each team member was given the freedom to decide which collection development strategies best worked for their artifacts and collection procedure because as we've learned this semester, it is not so easy to determine what constitutes significance, and this changes from person to person. Below is a list of general collection development guidelines for Team 1:

  1. Determine the public value of the artifact in question. Why should this artifact be included in the time capsule?
  2. What evidence is there that this artifact is actually of value to the public?
  3. How does the artifact represent one of the 5 topics of The Pursuit of Healthiness in 2009 Time Capsule?
  4. How does the artifact in question promote social interaction using Web 2.0 tools?
  5. When was the artifact created? Is it regularly maintained? (provide any relevant dates)
  6. When was the artifact last updated?
  7. Is the artifact aesthetically pleasing to look at and interact with?
  8. Does the artifact have a user-friendly interface?
  9. Note keywords, subject terms, title, abstracts
  10. Does the artifact have an RSS subscription or any other type of interactive subscription?
  11. Create a video capture of the interactive artifact in action (optional).
  12. Save the artifact in a non-proprietary file format. Archived websites should be saved in HTML format whenever possible. Screen shots of websites can also be used as snapshots of digital content.

Through lectures, readings, and guest presentations we have learned that Web archiving is not: bookmarking, search engine indexing, linking via webliography, or simply cataloging a website. More sophisticated Web archiving projects use MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema) to capture and preserve websites. This is also called Web Harvesting which includes downloading the website code, images, documents, and files to completely reproduce the site. Web harvesters try their hardest to preserve the original form of the website, but this can be difficult (most times impossible) for pages that constantly change. In this case, archivists like to use the Best Edition concept and preserve what is called a snapshot of the website at a particular moment in time. There can even be a series of these snapshots preserved to show changes that take place over time.

Web archiving is a science in its infancy, and as standards and guidelines become available, more institutions will participate in this form of historical and cultural preservation. Even though this project is teaching us preservation on a very small scale, it still teaches us about the larger scale issues surrounding access, acquisition, collection development, preservation, and historical documentation. The Internet is a wealth of information, and it is important for archivists, librarians, and the public to always remember that it is impossible to save everything. According to Pymm (2006), in reference to the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme started in 1992, "the documentary heritage, reflecting the 'memory of the world', is a fragile thing, requiring a sustained campaign to ensure longer-term survival of valuable archive holdings and library collections around the world" (61). The idea behind the Memory of the World project is that as materials get nominated for inclusion in the registry, the hope is that the mere recognition of the materials' significance as a cultural artifact of world importance will ensure their ongoing preservation. Collection development is an important step in successfully creating and preserving social memory so there should always be guidelines for archivists to follow. Even if those guidelines are allowed room for interpretation by archivists, at least there is a template for them to reference.

A brief note on significance

This project has highlighted the issue of significance very clearly, and everyone contributing to this assignment surely had difficulty determining significance of artifacts and why one artifact should be included and another not. Significance is fleeting. It can be different and change from person to person; from community to community; or from generation to generation. Even though the artifacts we've chosen are significant to us now, and seem timeless, there is no telling what sort of significance future generations will place on the artifacts we've chosen to preserve. In Pymm's article he references Schellenberg's description of primary and secondary values. The primary value refers to "a records role in supporting the activities of an organisation - its legal basis, responsibilities, and so on." The secondary value refers to "the sometimes unforseen value of a record to parties other than the creator" (66). Within secondary value some consideration should also be given for intrinsic worth through values such as aesthetic quality, association, significance, and uniqueness. Take a look at the list below, taken from Pymm's article, of some considerations archivists should weigh when faced with the task of determining significance:

  1. The functional characteristics of a record - what was the purpose, who created it?
  2. The quality and significance of the information in the record
  3. The record in context - is it part of a series, informing and supporting other material?
  4. Potential use that may be made of the record and it possible limitations
  5. The cost of preserving the record against the benefits accrued from its existence

Because digital artifacts are so fragile, it is important for archives and archivists to develop a set of standards and guidelines for collection development. While there are no concrete solutions, there are ways we can limit ambiguity. during this project we've learned a lot about the steps archivists must take to preserve digital data; we've learned by experiencing, even if on a small scale compared to the real thing, issues of significance, value, context, stability, etc. We have been swept into an inevitable discussion and debate over digital preservation.


Jones, G. (2009). Archiving the U.S. Elections Websphere: An Historical Perspective. Library of Congress. Office of Strategic Information.

Pymm, B. (2006). Building collections for all time: The issues of significance. AARL, Vol. 3 No. 1. 61-73.

Related articles for further reading

Hider, Philip. (2004). Australian digital collections: Metadata standards and interoperability. AARL, Vol. 34 No. 4. 289-300.

Sweetkind-Singer, J., Larsgaard, Mary L., and Erwin, T. (2006). Digital preservation of geospatial data. Library Trends, vol. 55, No. 2. 304-314.