Guidelines for organising your collections

These guidelines are intended to assist owners of archival collection material (including manuscripts, photographs, negatives, and pictorial material) in how to organise and care for your physical collection.  

Organising your archival collection 

There is no single way to organise a collection — of key importance is to look closely at the material you have, develop a systematic way of organising and ordering your collection, and apply this order consistently to materials in the collection. 
Things to consider include:

  • Organising material related to a particular activity or group together — for example, the work of a committee; material relating to the publication of a literary work; or material relating to a project or event.
  • Grouping items with a similar function together, for example minute books, diaries, and notebooks.
  • Grouping material related to a particular person or aspect of your life together — for example organising family papers by family members; organising your material into various roles and activities you undertake.
  • Keeping related material together and maintaining context — for example keeping letters which include photographs together.
  • Organising correspondence — there are many ways to sort correspondence including arranging it by date; grouping it by correspondent; sorting it by topic; or by type of correspondence (business and personal, or inward and outward correspondence); or by employing a combination of these methods.
  • Removing duplicate materials.
  • Creating a contents list for your collection.
  • Identifying material in your collection where it is not self-evident from the item. If you are labelling material in your collection, do so in a way that does not harm or damage the item — for example, house the material in a folder or archival sleeve and label this enclosure with the subject; for photographic prints write on the back of photographs using a soft 2B pencil; do not stick labels on material or press too hard if you are labelling an item.

Caring for your archival collection 

There are several simple steps you can take to keep your collection in good physical condition.

  • Remove, or do not use items that can cause long term preservation problems and damage, including staples, pins, metal paperclips, post-it notes, or rubber bands — use neutral pH, plastic paperclips. If your collection already contains post-it notes, leave them in place if they contain important information. Do not attempt to remove materials such as sticky tape if it has already been used on material.
  • Copy and replace items on unstable papers — for example, thermal paper used on some fax machines.
  • Consider housing materials in archival sleeves, folders, and boxes, and label enclosures.
  • House formats including photographs, negatives, slides, transparencies, sound cassettes and videocassettes in appropriate enclosures and containers.
  • Store your collection in a safe environment, preferably in a dry, well-ventilated area. Avoid using an attic or basement as a storage area, as conditions in these areas fluctuate; keep light to a minimum — avoid strong light sources and direct sunlight, which can cause fading; keep material away from heat sources and damp locations to reduce the risk of mould; and keep storage areas clean and free of insects and pests.

Please refer to the Library’s Collection Care Fact sheets for further information on caring for your collection.