Bringing the Margins to the Centre of Collections

The PMI Victorian History Library’s collection aims to represent all the multifaceted voices that make up Victoria’s history. This presentation will explore how this level of representation is achieved, especially highlighting the marginalised voice clause written into the PMI’s collection policy. The PMI is a small independent library with limited resources, so managing the collection requires ingenuity and flexibility to achieve the most possible with what we have available, including staff. Ellen works as the acquisition and cataloguing department, and while this presents challenges in terms of resources and time, it does allow a degree of autonomy and the flexibility that has helped to create what is (hopefully) a dynamic collection. The presentation will cover how the PMI’s collection and has grown and adapted, from the decision to specialise in Victorian history in the 1980s. Additionally, how its collection policy has evolved from its inception (in its current form) in 2018 through to the revised version completed in 2022 and put into action in 2023, which places marginalised collecting front and centre. The presentation will examine why this focus is important, what it has achieved, and how it is shaping the collection of the 170 year old organisation into the future. It will also extrapolate on several facets of what this means practically including:

  • Collecting many formats: including ephemera, comics and graphic novels, zines and films and discussing some of the key issues with collecting these formats and how they can be addressed by organisations who do not have the resources of a state or national institution, and some of the issues where a resolution is still being sought, including collecting streaming material.
  • Reaching out to minority groups. Essentially not waiting for a history to be written, finding the voices that your collection is missing and seeking them out actively.

Ultimately the aim of this presentation is to share ideas for minority voice inclusion that can work for libraries large and small and to show that you do not have to be a large organisation with significant resources to build a collection of depth and inclusion. This is about moving beyond neutrality in collection development and recognising that proactive work is needed to ensure voices are not lost in the broader strokes of history.

Ellen Coates

Collections Librarian and Volunteer Coordinator, PMI Victorian History Library

Author Bio

Ellen Coates is the Collections Librarian and Volunteer Coordinator at the PMI Victorian History Library. The PMI is a specialist history library and holds the only for loan collection of its type anywhere. She has also worked as a casual academic for CSU. She is one of the co-conveners of ALIAVic and was on the organisational committee for NLS9. She’s a writer and an historian (medieval history nerd). She runs the blog Historical Ragbag, which is a mixture of medieval and Australian history, and has had several short stories published. She can be found on most social media as @BiblioEll