Archives Reflection

Archives differ from public library collections in both purpose and scope. Archives  are created for researchers and historians, usually containing the original records and manuscripts of an individual or organization. Libraries, however, are intended for more general use, containing both fiction and nonfiction pieces. Libraries usually house published items, whereas archives generally hold the original or modified documents themselves. Because of the rarity of the artifacts, the stack of archives is usually closed (a staff member must retrieve items for patrons) and there are strict procedures governing where and how a resource can be viewed. As collectors of archival material, we in the WDP must take into account the characteristics of archives when we are collecting material. Since our portfolios will be preserved for many years, we must be thorough and put any news articles, correspondences, notes, or other pieces we use into our collection. Of special interest are our dialogues with contacts and interviewees. The readings demonstrated the responsibility of archivists and those generating material for archives as we ultimately determine what will be preserved as history.

Both Joffrion and Ridener mentioned the appraisal process in their pieces about archives. This area of archival collection is particularly interesting to me, as I think it must be very difficult to decide which items to keep and which to discard. It also brings into question whether we disregard information that could be useful to future researchers because we think it’s either too commonplace  or too controversial.  Joffrion’s slide titled “What to Collect?” brought up guidelines which I found myself applying to the Special Collections Resource Center here at William and Mary. For example, Special Collections takes a particular interest in records documenting William and Mary’s history and Virginia’s history. They do accept restricted or confidential material, keeping many collections like that of Chief Justice Burger are locked until a future date. Their primary clientele is mainly students, professors, and researchers concerned with the past of William and Mary and Virginia.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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