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BGSU library made wise decision

Laura Hoesman’s article (September 19, 2005) on the decision by the Bowling Green State University Center for Archival Collections to refuse the Col. Henry Tufts collection of papers relating to the Tiger Force begins with a headline that opines, “BGSU lost its chance.”

Having worked as an archivist for more than 20 years and now serving as the president of the Society of American Archivists, I offer a contrary opinion that the archives staff protected researchers and the University’s interests.

A quote from archivist Ann Bowers makes it clear she was aware that these papers were an “extremely, extremely important and valuable collection.”

However, such intellectual value is not the only factor in deciding to accept a collection.

Archivists spend significant time developing collecting policies. Such policies help establish what kinds of materials merit the investment of limited resources for storage, staffing and preservation.

To get the greatest return on its investment, archives look for collections that, together, form a whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Accepting a large, important collection that falls outside the archive’s scope can be a significant distraction.

The collections at the Center appropriately focus on the University, northwest Ohio and the Great Lakes. Servicing a large collection about the Vietnam War would take the efforts of the Center staff in a new, radically different direction.

How many important collections supporting research on the local area might be lost or placed elsewhere because of energy spent on this one collection?

Archives often expand their scope of collections, but only after ensuring that they have the resources to support those new directions.

The staff must have the subject expertise. They must also have the time to document, preserve and organize the materials to protect their authenticity and integrity.

Without those key ingredients in place, the researchers will never be able to realize the potential value of the collections.

Placing the collection at Bowling Green may have been convenient for the staff of the Toledo Blade.

However, the larger community of researchers, from across the country and around the world, are better served if a collection is placed at an archives with related materials. Such concentrations reduce travel and make it much easier to compare one collection with another.

Saying no is often one of the hardest things for an archivist to do because there are so many good reasons to say yes.

In this instance, the collection was no doubt tempting because of its obvious historical and research value.

But the fact that other archives wanted the collection does not suggest that the Bowling Green Center for Archival Collections erred when it declined the gift.

Rather, it indicates that the staff had the professionalism to concentrate on what it does best.

RICHARD PEARCE-MOSES

[email protected]

Laura Hoesman’s article (September 19, 2005) on the decision by the Bowling Green State University Center for Archival Collections to refuse the Col. Henry Tufts collection of papers relating to the Tiger Force begins with a headline that opines, “BGSU lost its chance.”

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