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Museum Archives Versus Public Libraries
Defining the Difference
According to Webster, a library is a "collection of books" and an archive is a "place for keeping public records and documentary materials." In today's world, however, libraries care for books, toys, computers, video games and DVDs. Typically, an archive only holds books, historic documents and photographs.

A library holds items on a broad range of topics and an archive holds related items from a specific community, family or organization. Archives hold items that tend to be of historic value, one-of-a-kind, unpublished and unique.

Categories of Items
A library will hold items that are mass-produced, contemporary and published. Archives organize their materials by the original order in which they were placed. For example, items from a file folder in Bertha Van Hoosen's desk would all be kept together even if they were removed from the original file folder. This retains the original and historic placement of the documents that may in itself provide further historic insight. A library, however, organizes its books by predetermined categories, such as fiction or nonfiction.

Public Need or Historic Preservation
Libraries work with immediate public needs, have open stacks to peruse, allow items to circulate or leave the building and react to the public's wants for the latest technology or book series. An archive is a repository of historic items whose mission or specialization does not change with the latest trend. Since archival collections are historic they must be cared for in a very different manner than library books. They are stored in special environments that provide protection from light, dust, temperature and pests. To make these items accessible to the public, the archivist must know the needs of the patron in advance to make the item's ready for their perusal. Frequently, archives will also have regulations on how the items are to be handled by a patron, such as wearing cotton gloves to prevent oils from harming the documents.

Of course, as with all rules there are exceptions. There are some libraries that have small archives that may include closed collections for first editions or specialty papers regarding the establishment of the library. There are also a few archives that may house objects along with their documents or books. Both of these institutions provide a valuable service to their community, whether it provides the latest bestseller or time on a computer to birth records of great grandpa or the charter of a community.

Come & Visit
Do you need to visit the archive at the Rochester Hills Museum? Contact the Museum by calling 248.656.4663 to set up an appointment. We'd love to share our community's history with you!

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