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About Special Collections
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.
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.
The College Archives collects 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in the course of College business; materials documenting the support of academic enterprises of faculty and students; unpublished material produced by undergraduate and graduate students during the course of their academic careers at Smith.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.
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:
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 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:
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.
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 has 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 Records Management.
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 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.
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:
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.
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:
These examples are meant to provide guidance and are not exhaustive.
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.
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:
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:
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
When choosing which materials to donate or sell, Special Collections encourages you to consider the following:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Please contact the relevant steward or Director of Special Collections if you have questions. Thank you for helping Smith College to build robust research and teaching collections.
Elizabeth Myers, Director of Special Collections
Maureen Callahan, Sophia Smith Collection Archivist
Shannon K. Supple, Curator of Rare Books
Nanci Young, College Archivist