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A lifecycle of community collections

Community collections (Keio Yochisha Elementary School)

You have learned that each university forms a unique collection tied closely to the community. While the community changes over time, what will happen to their collection?

In the previous activity, we explored various collections accumulated in universities. You have come to understand that each university forms a unique collection tied closely to the community that constitutes it. A strong bond with the community can give character to a collection and promote its active use. At the same time, this bond can also bring instability. Communities have lifecycles, where the members or focal activities might change. Due to this strong connection, these shifts in the community’s lifecycle can significantly affect community collections.

Challenges with university collections: orphan collections

Consider the academic collections of universities as an example. When the research direction of an academic community changes, collections formed in line with previous research interests may no longer be used, may be forgotten, and in the worst case, discarded. University collections can also be endangered by overarching trends within the entire institution. Major restructuring of the university’s educational and research organizations, done to cater to new or socially in-demand academic fields, can be a considerable challenge for both the academic community and its collections. Collections that have been detached from their original community due to various situational changes and can no longer receive proper care are termed “Orphan Collections.” The issues surrounding orphan collections became evident in Europe in the 1960s, prompting actions by university museums. From the 1980s, university museums from various countries and regions have formed networks to share these challenges. After much discussion in ICOM, the International Committee for University Museums and Collections (UMAC) was established in 2001 to facilitate discussions and share best practices.

The situation in Japanese universities

Japanese university collections face similar situations. Since the inception of the modern university system in 1918, Japanese universities have undergone various system and organizational reforms. Notably, the transition to the new university system after World War II and the significant revision of the “Standards for Establishment of Universities” in 1991 brought about profound changes. This law, which defines the basic conditions for university organization and education, allowed for greater flexibility in designing undergraduate education curriculums. This led to the establishment of various new faculties and courses. Universities continue to face pressures for organizational and operational innovations, driven by factors such as demographic changes and the demands of a globalizing society. Amidst these changes, museums in Japanese universities have been tirelessly working to preserve and utilize their collections.

How to address changes in community collections?

So far, we’ve looked at the effects societal changes and subsequent shifts in the community have on collections, using academic collections as an example. How might we address these changes and preserve community collections while making them relevant today? In the next step, we will introduce the challenges undertaken by Japanese university museums, aiming to reconnect collections to the current context while still retaining their original ties to the community.

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Akichi in Collections Management: Perspectives from a Japanese University Museum

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