Passive Collecting vs. Active Collecting

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

Recently, I attended the Archives Association of Ontario conference.  This fantastic professional development opportunity never fails to inspire and highlight steps I can take to celebrate our community through the archival collection.  The conferences also provide me an opportunity to discuss issues we are facing and troubleshoot with other professionals in the field.

One of the sessions, a session that I was pleased to chair, examined the shift from passive collecting to active collecting.  Traditionally, many archives have waited for donations of collections to come to them – passive collecting.  This is how the archival collection here at the Oshawa Museum has developed. Beyond the very early days of the Oshawa Historical Society, when the members were working to gather a collection to fill a new museum, we have typically not been out in the community asking the public to donate their historic documents and photographs to the archives.

This passive approach to collecting has resulted in some very noticeable gaps in our collection.  It is only through a more active collecting approach will we correct these gaps, as well as prevent a future archival collection that does not accurately represent our community.

The first step in a more active collecting approach is to determine what the gaps in the collection are and begin approaching people or groups that may have items that fit that topic. We noticed that there was a lack archival holdings focused on the diverse population of Oshawa.  In order to address this issue, we first began with researching these communities and developing articles and media to share the information.  The sharing of the information helped us to develop connections with members of the communities that had been underrepresented in our holdings.  These connections have brought in new donations, donations that work to fill in the gaps. For example, our research into early Black history in Oshawa has led to a connection with Club Carib and a donation of items related to the history of the club.

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A018.27.8 – May 1972 – Oshawa Caribs at Midtown Mall

The second step is changing our collecting focus.  For quite a while, the focus was on collecting items that belonged to “prominent” members of the community. By shifting the focus to include collecting on simply members of the community, not just those who have been deemed “prominent,” we create a collection that preserves a more complete and accurate history of our community. We have recently accessioned a new collection of postcards related to a young woman who grew up in Oshawa.  The postcards, and accompanying photographs, were sent to Mary James (nee Riley) from family and friends and speak to the life of a young girl growing up in early 20th century Oshawa. It is a most interesting collection and one that helps fill in a gap related to the female experience.

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A019.1.23 – Mary Riley riding a bicycle. Date and location unknown

Finally, active collecting results an archival collection growing at a far faster rate than one that relies solely in passive collecting.  This growing collection is straining the already cramped storage space for the archival collection. This is just one of the many reasons the Oshawa Historical Society is pursuing a new, purpose built visitor and collections centre. The proposed building will have a larger space for the archival collection and will permit future growth of this important asset to our community’s history.

 

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