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Collection Development Strategy

Smith College Special Collections


Policy created in 2019

Smith College Special Collections actively engages in donor stewardship and collection development in order to build its liberal arts archive and rare book collection for use by all researchers. Comprised of three distinct repositories -- Smith College Archives, the Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History, and the Mortimer Rare Book Collection -- Smith College Special Collections is a robust resource for research on the history of US women’s activism, women’s health, Smith College history, literature, book history, and book arts.

This document provides guidance about Special Collections’ foundational commitments, including its mission, vision, and ethics. The document also provides information about factors related to resource allocation and other considerations that guide collection development decisions. Smith College Special Collections periodically reviews and updates the collection development policies and practices to ensure responsible stewardship, alignment with the college’s and libraries’ priorities, and current and projected researcher interest.

Our Commitment

Mission: As a steward of historical materials of enduring value, Smith College Special Collections fosters inquiry, critical thinking, and knowledge building through an active engagement with the past and a focus on the future.

Vision: Special Collections envisions itself as a liberal arts laboratory: a place for imagination, active experimentation, and dynamic exchange. As such, we will provide engaging approaches to research, access, and pedagogy. We will skillfully curate materials relating to women’s history, the history of material texts, and the institutional memory of the College. Through these efforts, we will engage our communities in the process of discovery that lies at the heart of our archival endeavors.

Principles of Collection Development

  • Access. Materials are collected so that they may be used by any researcher regardless of background, research interest, educational attainment, or research goal. Special Collections supports the free exchange of ideas and information by promoting the widest possible access to our materials.
  • Documentation. Cultivating compelling evidence requires expertise on content and context. Stewards appraise potential acquisitions to determine which materials provide meaningful evidence of ideas, communities, values, and experiences. Stewards select materials so that communities may see themselves in the past by engaging with evidence found in archives and rare books. \ Special collections promote accountability; material evidence documents, reflects, and challenges assumptions about past knowledge and experience.
  • Inclusion. Collecting requires engaging in multi-voiced, inclusive perspective, broadening known networks, and being deliberate in the expansion of voices represented in Special Collections’ holdings.
  • Contextuality. Researchers benefit from access to collections of rare books and archives that constitute dense networks of connected ideas, activities, historical actors, and work. Special Collections believe that these contexts enhance the research value of these materials, which is an important consideration in acquisitions decisions.
  • Reliability. The evidentiary value of archives and rare books requires transparent and shared understanding of how and why they were created, selected, and maintained. Sources of materials (including donors and booksellers) must be responsible for documenting and disclosing materials provenance and any events that may complicate their authenticity.
  • Responsibility. Responsible stewardship requires full consideration of the ecosystem of materials already in our care to ensure that Special Collections maintains the resource capacity to collect and steward materials indefinitely.
  • Preservation. Access to materials over generations is only possible through the thoughtful stewardship of physical and digital content. Special Collections will make reasonable efforts to ensure the preservation of materials held by Special Collections into the future.

College Archives

The College Archives collect materials that document the life of the College, its faculty, students, alumnae, and staff. Materials range from official office files, publications, photographs, and other works for hire, produced by employees of the College in the course of College business; materials documenting the support of academic enterprises of faculty and students; unpublished material produced by undergraduate and graduate students during the course of their academic careers at Smith. This includes material that was produced during off-campus academic programs, such as Smith’s Junior Year Abroad programs.

Current collecting areas

The College Archives continues to collection materials related to the administrative and academic history of the College; history of student participation in College life including curricular and co-curricular activities; physical development of campus. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Administration. Board of Trustees, president’s office, dean of faculty, dean of college; dean of students; class deans’ office, includes office files, personnel records, and student files
  • Administrative offices. supporting the work of the administrative offices, including the Libraries, Facilities Management, Athletics, various Centers
  • Academic schools/programs. records of the School for Social Work; graduate programs in Education, Exercise Sport Studies, Dance
  • Departmental. records including office files, syllabi, meeting minutes, publications
  • Faculty. papers, includes correspondence, research files, committee files, College committee files, photographs documenting their work at the College in support of the academic mission of the College.
  • Students. materials documenting curricular and co-curricular activities of both undergraduate and graduate students; may include the records of student organizations, the student newspaper/literary publications; letters, journals, diaries, photograph albums, scrapbooks of undergraduates

New collecting areas

The College Archives has a strong base of materials documenting traditional white, heteronormative stories centering on Smith’s policies, teaching, and activities. The College Archives recognizes the gaps this collection strategy produced, and seeks now to expand the story of Smith College to include the College’s multi-faceted, and varied communities. To this end, the College Archives will focus on collecting documentation in these areas:

  • The stories of non-binary gender(s), sexualities as part of College life.
    The College is actively engaged in the complicated and important conversation concerning the support the sexual and gender fluidity of its student body, while remaining true to its core value of educating women. Documentation of the process may include areas of policy discussions, student organizing, and personal stories.
  • Persons of color at Smith, including staff, administrators, and with a particular focus on the experience of students in residential life, as it relates to the culture of Smith College.
  • Staff issues within the College context.
    One of the largest underrepresented groups in the College Archives is that of the employees of Smith College--both non-unionized as well as unionized individuals.
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program development
    The College Archives would like to begin to collect materials related to dual degrees, Picker Engineering Program, Summer Science & Engineering Program to document these pioneering programs for women in the sciences

Highly-desired materials

The College Archives seeks to include co-curricular, non-official materials developed/created by undergraduate and other members of the College because it provides a depth to the story that official documents cannot. The College Archives actively seeks undergraduate created materials documenting student life, including:

  • Letters home, scrapbooks
  • Student created zines and similar self-publications
  • Photographs of co-curricular activities
  • Student government and organizations relating to student interests

Materials the College Archives does not accept

Alumnae materials created during their post-Smith years, unless it relates to College service and reunion activities. Multiple copies of any item and any non-Smith related materials.

College Records Management

The Smith College Archives is committed to documenting the ‘life of the College’ and in the process collects records produced by administrators, office staff, and others associated with the business-side of running an institution of higher education. Not all of the records produced by these offices have permanent value to the College, but still must be maintained for a specified period of time. This is the purpose of a records management program. An institution with a strong archives AND records management program is the goal, as the records management program identifies and feeds permanent and historical valuable records to the College Archives.

Smith College retains and preserves vital records of its business and operations to preserve an historical record of the College, to ensure current and future operations, and to comply with its legal obligations. This is done through the College’s records management policy formulated in 2006. The College will retain such records for a length of time that is appropriate to their nature and as is required by law. The records management policy was revised in 2013. For further information about the records management program, see our Records Management Policy.

Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History

Since 1942 Smith College has collected documentation of people changing the world on behalf of women and other gender minorities. The Sophia Smith Collection of Women’s History (SSC) holds extraordinary, world-renowned archival collections in the following areas:

  • The United States women’s suffrage movement leading to the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
  • Movements for reproductive health, access, and justice
  • The women’s liberation movement of the late twentieth century

The SSC welcomes additional collections of historical value in the above areas, particularly collections that tell stories not represented in our current holdings. The repository seeks records that document the lives of women of color, sexual and gender minorities, and of extraordinary leaders in these movements, particularly when these categories intersect.

While it is true that every person’s story and contribution is unique, staff may choose to not accept additional collections that are similarly represented in current holdings. If staff determine that a collection may not be an ideal fit for the Sophia Smith Collection, alternate repositories will be provided to interested donors.

Expanding current collecting areas

Smith College Special Collections is the fortunate beneficiary of many important collections. However, in some collecting areas we still endeavor to complete dense, meaningful networks of associated records. We are particularly eager to supplement existing collections around the following areas:

  • Women’s advocacy for environmental justice
  • Iconoclast feminist writers, artists, filmmakers, and architects
  • Women working to end mass incarceration and advocate for incarcerated people
  • Working-class women agitating for economic justice
  • Self-documentation in lesbian and queer communities

Our collecting is strongest and most useful to researchers when it represents a wide variety of women’s backgrounds and ideas in conversation with one another.

New collecting areas

Today, movements for social change by women activists often address areas that have not yet been widely collected at Smith College. In the next five years, we plan to pursue collecting partnerships with individuals and organizations who have created documentation related to the following ideas:

  • Full civil rights of trans and gender non-conforming people
  • Advocacy for women’s full participation and recognition in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (STEM)
  • Women authors writing for young audiences, especially girls or other young gender minorities
  • Agitation for the rights of workers in a gendered context, particularly sex workers

Kinds of materials we collect

Highly-desired documentation

These examples are meant to provide guidance and are not exhaustive.

  • Personal reflections on life, work, or important events
    Diaries and journals, personal correspondence (paper and email), memoirs, scrapbooks and other memory books, blogs, recordings of conversations or events
  • Documentation of an artist or writer’s creative process
    Drafts of writing, sketches and other preparatory artwork, artists’ statements
  • Direct evidence of significant events or work in the life of a person or organization
    Photographs, press releases, speeches and other prepared remarks, unique research materials (e.g., datasets, fieldwork, interviews)
  • Evidence of the friendship, love, and family networks that influence an individual
    Correspondence, social media, documentation of family life, photographs
  • Documentation that elucidates an organization’s composition and priorities
    Founding charters, organizational charts, grant proposals, strategic plans, project plans, documentation of decision making (e.g., meeting notes, correspondence, reports)

Collected historical materials

It is common to collect materials not authored by the donor, when they reflect the times and networks of which a person or organization was a part. In most cases, the repository is happy to accept the following materials, particularly when they represent a meaningful time in the life of a person or organization.

  • Rare published materials related to our collecting areas (e.g., small-print-run magazines, zines, and newspapers).
  • Collected ephemera (e.g., buttons, signs, posters, bumper stickers)
  • Rare sound and video recordings related to our collecting areas

Materials the Sophia Smith Collection does not generally accept

The Sophia Smith Collection will only accept the following materials under extraordinary circumstances; staff are always willing to discuss whether any of the following would be appropriate for acquisition:

  • Books not authored by the donor
  • Widely-distributed sound and video recordings
  • Recordings of media broadcasts that do not feature the donor
  • Clippings from or copies of widely-distributed newspapers, magazines, and academic journals
  • Drafts of published academic work
  • Academic research files
  • Reproductions of materials from other archives
  • Facsimiles of extant original materials
  • Objects (e.g., trophies, plaques, clothing, household objects)
  • Collected artworks (We can connect you to our colleagues at the Smith College Art Museum, as appropriate)

Materials the Sophia Smith Collection cannot accept

  • Third-party medical records (e.g., a therapist’s notes about her patients)
  • Third-party educational records of living persons (e.g., a teacher’s gradebook or graded, marked-up copies of her students’ work)
  • Illegal pornography

Mortimer Rare Book Collection

The Mortimer Rare Book Collection (MRBC) supports the curriculum of Smith College and enables Smith College Special Collections to function as a laboratory for the exploration of the history of material texts and culture. MRBC encompasses cuneiform tablets, European medieval manuscripts, rare printed books, literary archives, artists’ books, graphic arts, digital objects, and other historical and cultural materials of enduring value.

The repository covers a variety of subjects and is chronologically and geographically broad, with traditional strengths in text objects created in Europe and the United States. Primarily a teaching collection, MRBC supports inquiry and engagement in and across a broad range of academic disciplines.

As part of our responsibility to build a diverse human record, MRBC seeks to broaden the traditions and voices represented in the collection. The repository develops collections by foregrounding support for the College’s curriculum and collects materials with evidentiary value that contribute to imaginative inquiry, critical thinking, and knowledge building. Faculty are encouraged to contact the curator to discuss how MRBC can support and enrich their research and pedagogy.

The Mortimer Rare Book Collection currently has numerous strengths, including:

Existing collecting areas

  • History of printing, including European incunables (books printed before 1501), examples of European and North American book production, publishers’ bindings, book jackets, and bookplates
  • History of book illustration
  • Artists’ books, graphic arts, and modern fine press books
  • Published and archival materials by prominent women authors, including Virginia Woolf and members of the Bloomsbury Group, Sylvia Plath, and Mary Shelley
  • 17th- & 18th-century English drama and children’s literature, 18th-century English literature, and Irish Literary Renaissance
  • Linguistics and British philology and lexicography
  • Lesbian Pulp Fiction
  • American women travelers abroad, including Italian travel and 17th- and 18th-century guidebooks to pilgrimage sites
  • Economics
  • Early 18th-century English political pamphlets
  • Women’s education

Current collecting areas

  • Book History and Book Arts. Strengthening book artifacts and examples; adding activist graphic arts; diversifying documentation of book production and use, including in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East; expanding book works by creators from underrepresented groups.
  • Material Texts by Marginalized Groups. Including African-American literature and Black print culture, Asian-American literature, global print cultures, and other material texts supporting the curriculum.
  • History of Science. Works created by women in the histories of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, with a focus on botanical and other natural history materials and on the history of data visualization

Highly-desired documentation

  • Books with annotations and other marks of use
  • Book artifactual examples

Materials the Mortimer Rare Book Collection generally does not accept

  • Duplicates of materials already held
  • Widely-available publications
  • Publications that do not align with the current curriculum of the College
  • Facsimiles of original materials, unless they serve a specific curricular need
  • Non-book artwork

Materials the Mortimer Rare Book Collection does not accept

  • Materials without clear title

Guidelines for potential and current donors

Collection stewards work diligently with all donors and sellers to manage the transfer of materials to Smith College or, if the materials are not an active area of collecting, to help donors find a suitable archival home for their materials. Before sending materials to Special Collections, donors and sellers should contact the appropriate steward or, if unsure, the Director of Special Collections.

General steps to archival or rare book acquisition

  • Because Smith College acquiring materials constitutes an indefinite commitment, Special Collections takes this collecting responsibility seriously. The decision to acquire materials is made by repository stewards, the director of special collections, and the dean of libraries.
  • All acquisitions are governed by deed of gift or sale agreement. Stewards, donors, and sellers will have the opportunity to discuss and agree on terms.
  • It is important to collection stewards to understand donors’ and sellers expectations; these expectations will be discussed, negotiated, and ultimately reflected in deeds of gift or sale.
  • To allow Special Collections to make an informed decision, donors and sellers provide information about the scope and depth of their materials. This may take many forms, including an inventory of proposed materials or an on-site survey, as determined by the steward.
  • As part of this review of materials before transfer, please inform Special Collections of any materials that may need to be temporarily restricted from research use, either to protect your own privacy or legal rights or those of third parties. In special cases, Special Collections has mechanisms to limit researcher access for period of time. This decision is agreed to and documented within the deed of gift or sale.
  • Before transfer, donors and sellers will stabilize materials. This may include putting loose papers in folders and labelling files, reviewing and labelling sound and video recordings, and checking for environmental contaminants.
  • Special Collections will help to manage safe and professional transit of physical materials and transfer of electronic records.
  • Smith College will provide a letter acknowledging the receipt of gifts that may be used for tax purposes.
  • Special Collections selects materials that best represent evidence of life and work. As part of normal activities, archivists may remove some records that provide less research value. Donors may choose to have these materials returned.
  • Materials acquired will be described shortly after transfer and this description will be available online, for world-wide discovery. Special Collections promotes the presence of all collections, even collections that may not be immediately accessible for research.
  • These materials will be used in the course of research, to the extent allowed by legal agreement, either onsite or through duplication requests.
  • Special Collections may put materials or representations of materials online to facilitate wider research use.

Selecting archival materials

When choosing which materials to donate or sell, Special Collections encourages you to consider the following:

  • Context. Providing context to the content of historical materials helps researchers understand how and why materials were created or collected, and what they meant to the person or organization who held them. Often, this is as easy as making sure that file folders and digital directories have labels that explain what the documents are and to what they relate. If, after looking through materials, you realize that they do not speak for themselves, it may be useful to write a memorandum that speaks to the events, activities, and people that these files represent to include with the donation.
  • Authenticity. Researchers may learn as much about a person's life by the way records are organized as the content of the records themselves. Try to keep materials in a way that is authentic to the way that you produced and used them. Special Collections is less concerned about how tidily the materials are organized and much more concerned that we all have the context needed to understand what they mean to you.
  • Uniqueness or rarity of content. Special Collections seeks to collect works that come from your hands and your mind, or that you may have collected and greatly influenced you but were never widely available. Special Collections is less likely to acquire books, clippings, widely-published articles, or other materials that might be found in a library,newspaper,or journal database.

Legal & Ethical Considerations

All materials accepted, whether by donation or purchase, are governed by legal agreements. The central guiding document for donations is the deed of gift which is comprised of the following:

  • Title transfer of the materials from the donor to Smith College
  • Statements determining the management of the materials, copyright, access, deaccessioning, and electronic records (if applicable)
  • Internal Revenue Service (IRS) statement on gifts

The deed of gift is the foundation for conversations between collection stewards and donors. Through the agreement, Smith College clarifies as much as possible the rights and responsibilities of all parties pertaining to material donations. Discussing the terms of the deed is the best way to determine the wishes of the donor and ensuring that those wishes will be executed in the future.

Materials acquired by sale agreement are subject to a similar process. For direct sales from booksellers, the invoice serves as documentation of legal transfer of ownership to the College. For the purchase of archival collections, a sale agreement will be negotiated that outlines the following:

  • Title transfer
  • Sale price and payment method
  • Determination or transfer of copyright
  • Conditions governing access
  • Method of transfer of the materials
  • General terms and conditions


In accordance with Smith College Special Collections’ values, we affirm that donors of archival materials share a responsibility to consider the privacy of third parties. The materials that donors collect in their lives can reveal sensitive information about others. Donors are responsible for reviewing materials before sending them to the college, and, when possible, discussing the inclusion of third-party information with those affected by it and with the appropriate collection steward.


Smith College Special Collections accepts materials within the collecting scope outlined in this document, regardless of format. Some formats (particularly depreciated electronic records and at-risk sound and video formats) require special stewardship for their ongoing preservation and use. Decisions about whether acquire those materials may be sensitive to resource constraints.


Smith College Special Collections engages in on-demand and strategic digitization projects so that more materials will be accessible to more researchers. Any materials that are digitized are likely to be made accessible online, unless otherwise restricted. It is uncommon to digitize entire collections because of the intensive resources required to do so.

Taxes and Financial Appraisal

Under current United States tax law, donors who wish to receive a tax deduction for gifts with a value over $500 but less than $5,000 must file a completed IRS Form 8283; the completed form must be submitted to Smith College Special Collections. The director of special collections will sign to verify receipt of the gift in question before returning the form to the donor.

For gifts with a value exceeding $5,000 a donor must secure a formal appraisal to accompany an IRS Form 8283. A copy of the appraisal should also be submitted to Smith College Special Collections along with a completed 8283 tax form. The IRS Form 8283 and instructions for completing it can be found online here.

While Special Collections staff are content experts capable of providing historical appraisal of materials on offer to the college, they cannot provide financial appraisals or tax or other legal advice. Donors are financially responsible for the financial appraisal of materials, should they choose to have their materials fiscally valued. Materials acquired by Special Collections can be made available for financial appraisal (arranged by the donor) during normal business hours. The cost of an appraisal is the responsibility of the donor and itself may be tax-deductible.

As a matter of policy, Smith College Special Collections staff cannot recommend individual appraisers. Donors are encouraged to consult local directories, or websites through which appraisers may be found, such as those of the Southern New England Antiquarian Booksellers, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, and the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association.


Collections are routinely evaluated and may be reevaluated to maintain relevance for Special Collections’ stakeholders. This review may necessitate the removal of parts or entire collections, adhering to professional best practices and the Society of American Archivists’ Code of Ethics, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section’s Code of Ethics, and the Society of American Archivists’ Guidelines for Reappraisal and Deaccessioning. Materials that duplicate holdings, fall outside of established collecting scopes, or otherwise do not fit the mission of Smith College Special Collections may be deaccessioned, subject to donor agreements and legal restrictions. Deaccessioning can mean the destruction of materials, return of materials to the donor, or the transfer of materials to another repository. Final deaccessioning determinations are approved by the Director of Special Collections and the Dean of Libraries.

Oral Histories

Smith College Special Collections may collect the products of oral history projects that align with collecting policies and meet particular conditions. Oral historians considering a project whose products they wish to donate to Special Collections are urged to contact the relevant steward well in advance of such a project to ensure it will meet all criteria. Please refer to the Smith College Special Collections Oral History Policy for more information.

Operational Impact

Successful ongoing stewardship of collections requires a mix of initial and ongoing resources, including staff, space, supplies, equipment, and overhead. When possible, financial gifts to help support the ongoing resource needs of collections greatly increase Special Collections’ capacity to provide ongoing access to these important materials.




Curation and Appraisal
Standard Shipping
Special Packing / Shipping



Archival supplies



Labor to digitize (by format):
     High resolution
     Migrate analog technology
     Migrate hard-drives
Equipment replacement/software maintenance
Forensic Workstation




Content Management & Preservation System:
     Project planning and set up
     Expansion of storage space



Access & Management

Collection Management System
Content Delivery System
Maintaining expertise and building new skills
as needed - system management
Research services operations



Contact Special Collections

For general inquiries, contact, 413-585-2970.

Elizabeth Myers, Director of Special Collections,




College Archives

Nanci Young, College Archivist

Mortimer Rare Book Collection

Shannon K. Supple, Curator of Rare Books

Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History

TBD, Sophia Smith Archivist