July 18

The ethics of personal collecting

I found it interesting when reviewing various Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector associations’ Codes of Ethics for my preservation subject that many considered personal collections that were in line with the collections of an employing institution were proscribed as conflicts of interest. On reflection, I can understand that serious collectors often have such a passion and thirst for their collections that could interfere with their ability to make sound judgements in their institutional collecting. On the other hand, a lively interest – manifested by a desire to collect items – in the collection area of your workplace would surely benefit GLAM sector employment. I was impressed with the way that the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) ( 2003) approached this matter in their very succinct Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians:

“I. Special collections librarians sometimes collect personally, as well as on behalf of their library. Personal collecting can add to the librarian’s understanding of a collecting area and the marketplace for special collections materials. Consequently, personal collecting should not be discouraged. However, special collections librarians should disclose their personal collecting activity to their employer, especially when their collecting area coincides with that of the institution. When such coincidence occurs, the special collections librarian must not compete with the library, must not build his or her personal collection at the expense of the institution’s collection, and must be diligent in distinguishing items acquired for the institution’s collection from items acquired for the personal collection. In all instances, special collections librarians should conduct their personal collecting in a manner that avoids impropriety and prevents any appearance thereof (ACRL, 2003, para. 13).”


Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). (2003, October). Code of ethics for special collections librarians. Retrieved from http://rbms.info/standards/code_of_ethics/