Textiles: How much do you need?

Here is a specific question that I am sure many school archivists handle on a regular basis. At a school, there are t-shirts for every sport, usually for major events or anniversaries, or perhaps an annual t-shirt for an ongoing program. For legal or administrative purposes, there’s no reason to keep them, yet at least once a month I receive a call saying, “I just cleaned out my office/house…do you want this stuff?”

1950 Washington Seminary alumna in a May Day dress, donated to the Westminster Schools Archives in 2013. Dress is a light bluish-green and fully handmade.

This discussion could apply to most textiles available at a school archives: ballgowns (in our case “May Day” dresses), athletic jackets of various sorts, t-shirts, sweatshirts, cheerleading uniforms, choral dresses, and so on. How do you go about developing guidelines so that you can safely say, “That’s lovely, but we don’t need to keep it”?

Here is where your collection development policy comes into play. Without it, you don’t have a good reason to reject items for inclusion in the archives. Your collection policy should answer the following questions:

  1. Is it on the list of permanently retained items?
  2. Do we have it already?
  3. Is it unique?
  4. Was it owned by someone significant in the history of the school?
  5. What is the physical condition of the object?
  6. How many copies of said item will we retain within the archives?
  7. What will we do with items not designated for inclusion within the archives?

While we are not collecting every t-shirt created on campus, we certainly keep t-shirts such as those commemorating the anniversaries and significant events on campus. I have placed textiles in exhibits, utilizing mannequins borrowed from the school bookstore to great success–viewers enjoy seeing the 3-D objects just as much as the photographs or newspapers being displayed. The younger students also seem to connect more readily to the textiles than the photographs when I speak to classes on archives and research.

I’d love to see some examples of your collection development policies which include textiles, or to hear from those school archivists who are actively collecting textiles.

Examples of Collection Development Policies which include textiles:

Further Reading on textiles in archives:


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