University of Melbourne Archives

Collection Development Policy


The University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) 'is responsible for the University's own historical records and is also a national collecting archive which develops, preserves, exhibits and provides access to its collections in support of the University's teaching and research programs and community development agenda'. See

Our collection of nearly fifteen kilometres is one of the largest non-government archives in Australia. It resulted from forty-four years of collecting and is a diverse holding of enormous cultural and research importance. As noted, our prime responsibilities are to support the teaching and research goal of the University, and to preserve its own corporate memory. Although we have traditional strengths in three areas - our own history, Victorian business and labour - we have become a generalist collection covering all aspects of Victorian life and historical aspects of all academic disciplines.

A mature assessment of our collection strengths and realities acknowledges that our resources are stretched with limited prospects for dramatic improvement in resourcing. In response, we are restating what we now collect; we will carefully review what we currently hold; and we will be more deliberate in what we target for collecting.

Community and Professional Context

In Australia, there are well-resourced state and federal archives that document the work of government. Beyond this the activities of businesses, universities, trade unions, thousands of not-for-profit bodies, and individuals performing roles from private citizen to active participant in society are undocumented. We will never be able to preserve even a tiny fraction of the archival records created by Victorians and Victorian organisations outside the government sector.

Accepting that our prime responsibilities are to support the teaching and research goals of the university, and preserve its own corporate memory we are not directly funded as a public collecting archive. However, where we can, we will encourage and advise on and support the preservation of archival records generally. Organisations and families ought to take responsibility for their own records and archives; collecting by cultural heritage and research institutions is only one partial solution. When we do become involved, we will aim for a seat at the records creation table which is when archival records are best identified.

When we consider material for collection, we will also take note of the long standing roles and responsibilities of other libraries and archives, and as appropriate, we will consult with them. We try to be especially sensitive to the remit of our only direct equivalent in Australia, the Noel Butlin Archives Centre at the Australian National University. It has an equally extensive holding of business and labour materials. We also accept that the role of the State Library of Victoria, the only other large collector of non government archives in Melbourne, will sometimes mean that we share justifiable interests in the same collection. Similarly, we recognise that the national significance of University of Melbourne scientists, historians, economists and other scholars makes their papers of potential interest to the National Library.

The University of Melbourne Archives holds dozens of collections generated by and/or directly documenting specific localities around Victoria. However, we believe that the hundreds of local historical societies and libraries are the appropriate places to preserve local records and we will have due regard to these before adding to our collections.

Collecting Guidelines

When considering an offer or deciding on an organisation or person to approach, we will be guided by the following values:

Collection Strengths, Methods and Intents

Official University Records

UMA operates in partnership with Records Services within the University Secretary's Department (see to manage the University's official documentation. Archival records are identified through the application of (i) disposal and retention schedules and (ii) specific destruction authorities, and which result in regular transfers to our custody following their application to record sets by departments. The University Archivist has a direct role in the authorisation of these documents. They in turn are prepared against the background of the higher and further education institutions general records disposal authority issued by the Public Record Office Victoria in 2003 (see

We do not accept transfers of official record series directly from University departments, nor records that have not been evaluated and approved for transfer by Records Services. In addition, we do not take in 'non record' documentation generated as a result official activities, for example videos of graduation ceremonies made on contract for sale to students and their families.

Other University-related Records

We hold over fifty collections of records of student and staff clubs, societies and organisations, our ideal being to secure their core materials such as minute books, key files, photographs and sets of newsletters. Our aim is a broad representation of the life of the University community since 1853, rather than a complete archival record of every club and society that has operated over the past 150 years.

As for affiliated or connected entities such as residential colleges and wholly owned University companies (see chapter nine of the University statutes and regulations at, our policy is to have very limited involvement. We expect colleges, University businesses, centres and similar entities to make provision for their own archives, although we will offer general advice.

Personal Archives of Students

Two sharply-contrasting realities guide us here. Firstly the process of teaching, as opposed to the preparation of materials and the taking of notes, tends to generate little documentation. Secondly, the University has 140,000 former students in over 100 countries, ranging in age from their early twenties to a small number of centenarians. Only in very exceptional circumstances would their mementos of attending the University such as study diaries, lecture notes, ephemera of campus life such as copies of newsletters warrant permanent preservation. Those of interest include student leaders, those people who attended the first classes of a new program, and anyone whose subsequent career achieves distinction.

Personal Archives of Academic and General Staff

Being 150 years old, there have been thousands of academic staff employed by the University. These hardly compare with the number of former students, though we must be equally discriminating about who and what we collect. Several factors guide decisions as to whom to approach and when responding to offers. The personal and semi official papers of chancellors, vice-chancellors and senior executives potentially are of interest, especially cases when their tenures coincide with beginnings and/or major change, and are preceded by long academic careers at this University.

Turning to academics, to be of interest there must be more than a distinguished teaching and research and publishing record, for example significant national or international involvements in areas such as public policy development and community debate. Eminent scholars whose career and achievements could complement other collecting themes would also be considered. As for what documentation is of possible interest, we look for those files, minutes and the like which compensate where the official records is thin, rather than duplication of departmental papers. Only rarely will academics' research notes and data be contemplated, for instance when there is a very high likelihood they can sustain many further new uses.


The University of Melbourne Archives was established to collect the archives of the University and of businesses representative of Victoria's commercial, manufacturing, and especially mining activity. Since then, the collections have grown to include legal and architectural practices and financial institutions. We now hold six kilometres of records from approximately 230 Victorian companies whose dates stretch from the earliest years of the colony of Port Phillip to the late twentieth century.

Adequate documentation of the Victorian business sector is impossible; the sheer numbers involved – currently over 800,000 entities large and small – make this impractical. We strongly encourage businesses to make their own arrangements for archives and records, not only with a view to business efficiency, risk management and corporate accountability and pride, but also recognising that they generate cultural heritage whose preservation can benefit society as a whole.

Against this reality, we will now seek records within a developed framework of designated industry sectors, and entities within them. See Jane Ellen et. al., ‘Making archival choices for business history', Australian Economic History Review, vol 44 no 2 August 2004. Our overall aim has been restated as documenting selected businesses incorporated in, headquartered in, or operating in Victoria, irrespective of the ultimate location of the business's ownership.

To support that selection, we have identified for documentation Victoria's current economic strengths and future growth sectors: business services; financial services; wholesale and retail trade; construction; food beverage and tobacco manufacturing; and machinery and equipment manufacturing. Businesses of particular interest within those sectors will be Australian owned, have operated for many years, have many employees and a high economic impact in Victoria, and/or have unique social cultural or industrial significance. We will identify record generating functions within firms to target and be guided by the Australian Records Retention Manual.

Trade Unions

In keeping with many other research based collecting archives, we have developed in parallel with the business collections a special strength in primary sources relating to the union movement. Almost a kilometre of minute books, correspondence files, photographs, newsletter and related papers of over one hundred unions are held, as well as of the Victorian Trades Hall Council and four regional trades and labour councils. Our overall aim is to secure records generated by select Victorian branches of unions and selected federal branches of unions whose headquarters are in Victoria. In general, our interest is in the centre and policy decisions, not the minutiae of the sub branch.

Our collecting is undertaken in close cooperation with the Noel Butlin Archives Centre, which operates over many states and now has over six kilometres of trade union material. We are both guided by the Trade Union Records Disposal Guide and Schedule, which we developed with the Noel Butlin, other archivists and trade union representatives in the late 1990s.

Literary Archives

Our interest in literary archives is limited, as this field is traditionally the domain of the National and State Libraries. Personal collections with a strong University connection (e.g. academics such as Professor Chris Wallace Crabbe and Clem Christesen, editor of Meanjin) and business records of publishers relating to our other areas of collecting (e.g. feminism, hence the Sisters Publishing Ltd archive) are considered.

Collecting to Complement Existing Business and Labour

UMA has, and will continue to seek collections which complement its core target sectors of business and labour. This includes not only the personal papers of prominent or significant individuals such as businessmen and trade union officials, but also the records of related bodies representing employers and the professions, and of groups whose aims broadly complement the labour movement. The latter category covers peace, disarmament, community, feminist and related political and protest groups and individuals. Archival records and personal papers which document their key activities are sought, including minutes, correspondence, photographs and master sets of newsletters.

What We Do Not Collect

During the past forty four years the UMA has come to be seen by many as a vast collection of amazing richness, where all manner of interesting and eclectic historical material is deposited. The result of this generous catholicity and astute judgement was not really shown while the collection was being built and only now can it be fully appreciated.

However, we now do not seek:

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