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Community collections in universities

What's unique about the community collections in universities?

We believe referring to collections in universities can be effective when thinking about challenges and approaches in community collections. This is because a university is an intricate community.

University as a collection of communities

A university is a collection of various communities. Imagine a campus; you’ll see different groups active. Communities are based on majors, faculties, research departments, and projects. Additionally, there are student groups focused on cultural and sports activities. Alumni groups formed by graduation year, hometown, and profession are also communities. The local community where the campus is located connects to the university, too. Thus, a university consists of communities with varying scales and purposes.

Autonomous collections

These communities, while sometimes interconnected, operate autonomously and accumulate objects that form various collections. It’s easy to grasp the complexity when considering these autonomous collections, as a whole, represent the community collections of the university. This autonomy differentiates general museum collections, centred around a collecting policy, from university museum collections. This autonomy is also a charm of university collections. On the campus, there are intriguing items you’ve never seen, bringing the excitement of finding something new.

Collections for use

A significant portion of university collections stems from academic areas. The core activities of universities are research and education. They’ve formed vast collections necessary for these activities through acquisition, purchase, and donations. Academic specimens, experimental tools, valuable books, old documents, and artworks – the content varies by speciality. However, the common feature of academic collections is that they’re for “usage” as research and educational materials. Having collections close by and using them in research and educational activities creates a strong bond, a unique feature of academic collections.

Where are the collections?

Where are these unique university collections stored, used, and sometimes displayed? In many universities, it’s the university museum that manages the collection. The history of university collections goes back to medieval European universities. However, modern university museums, like the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University (opened in 1683), are considered the beginning. Unique university museums with various missions and purposes are established in universities worldwide, carrying out their activities.

However, not all collections are managed by university museums. As we’ve seen, university collections are formed autonomously and exist under a strong connection with their users. Therefore, they’re often managed within their community, like in a research institute’s storage, a corner of a shared research room, rental storage for research projects, or even a corner of a professor’s office.

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Akichi in Collections Management: Perspectives from a Japanese University Museum

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