Collection Development Policy

Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) collects, preserves, and shares documentation of the experiences, achievements, and memories of people and organizations reflecting the university's major research areas, with a special commitment to documenting the history of the university. Supporting the land-grant ideals of putting science, technology and human creativity to work, we strive to enrich learning and encourage investigation by a diverse community of users. 

SCUA subject area concentrations derive from major research/education areas conducted at Iowa State University. They are documented through the identification and selection of rare and unique documentary materials created and accumulated by ISU and its members as well as from individuals and organizations external to the university. The collecting interests and the extent of collecting activity in them changes over time as academic research programs develop and diminish at ISU. The purpose of this approach is to serve the current and future teaching, learning and research mission of Iowa State University. 

SCUA strives to uphold Iowa State University’s commitment to fostering a welcoming environment, providing full access and opportunity, and promoting a sense of belonging. SCUA works to:

  • Build and promote archival collections that document a multiplicity of viewpoints on social, political, and intellectual issues.
  • Cultivate and steward collections that recognize the rich diversity of ideas, cultures, and experiences.
  • Provide resources about and for all people by seeking out perspectives of the historically marginalized and underrepresented.

Organization of collections

The Department's collections are subdivided into three groups of materials:  university archives, manuscript collections, and rare books. 

  • University archives are those materials created by individuals and groups working directly for or affiliated with Iowa State University and includes administrators, faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
  • Manuscript collections are archival materials that are produced by private individuals and organizations generally not affiliated with the University.
  • Rare books are published materials collected by the ISU Libraries that generally older and/or rarer than those found in the Library's general collection.

Record formats and chronological considerations

Non-print areas (photographs, maps, audiovisual recordings, oral histories) will broadly include 19th through 21st century materials, being weighted more heavily toward the 20th and 21st century. Nineteenth century and early 20th century materials will be collected when opportunities present themselves.

The collecting of born-digital and electronic records will be based on the subject areas outlined below, as well as administrative and institutional requirements, preservation and access considerations, publication and reference use, and potential curriculum needs. SCUA can scan and return select original materials on a case by case basis. 


As an archival repository and not a museum, we do not prioritize the collecting of artifacts. Those that we do collect must either: 1) document an important aspect of the university's history, or the faculty, staff, or student experience; or 2) be associated with a manuscript collection. In order to merit retention, the object(s) must also meet AT LEAST ONE other criteria for inclusion:

  • have unique physical characteristics;
  • hold high research value;
  • have potential for use in exhibition, other outreach activity, or instruction.

If an object meets multiple criteria, it has a stronger chance of being retained. Plaques and trophies rarely meet any of these characteristics, and SCUA is working both to limit the number accepted and to deaccession those it currently holds. SCUA reserves the right to refuse any 3-dimensional object that it feels does not merit retention.

University Archives 

Primary subject areas of collecting activity 

  • Administrative Units and Academic Departmental Records  

These records document the creation, development, priorities, and activities of every ISU administrative unit, academic school, department, or research center/institute. 

  • Faculty and Staff Papers 

Records documenting faculty/staff as a member of the university community, as a teacher, researcher, and a scholar interacting with professional colleagues within and outside of the university. 

  • ISU Affiliated Organizations 

Faculty and staff organizations, alumni groups, and ISU support organizations documenting the creation, development, priorities, and activities of these organizations.  

  • Alumni Papers 

Documenting the individual’s student experience with an emphasis on unique materials created and collected during their time at ISU or their engagement with ISU afterwards.  

  • Student Organizations 

Records documenting the creation, development, priorities, and activities of these organizations. 

  • Student Activism  

Materials documenting involvement in activism by ISU students.  

Inactive collecting areas 

The following are no longer actively acquired: 

  1. ISU yearbooks (The Bomb

  1. Books authored by ISU faculty—these are acquired by the Library as part of its general collection. 

  1. Postcards 

  1. Ames community (Contact Ames History Museum)

Manuscript collections

Geographical considerations

Efforts to document the primary and secondary subject areas outlined below will adhere to the following geographic criteria, appearing in rank order, with primary attention given to local and region documentation and broader documentation as appropriate:

  • Within the State of Iowa
  • Within the Great Plains/U.S. Midwest
  • Within the United States
  • International

Primary subject areas of collecting activity

Agriculture and rural life 
  • Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering and Technology 

  • Animal Sciences 

  • Crop Sciences 

  • Entomology/Pest control 

  • Food/Nutritional Sciences 

  • Rural life, particularly economic and social/family development 

  • Soil and Seed Sciences 

  • Veterinary Medicine 

  • Architecture

  • Community and Regional Planning 

  • Iowa Artists

  • Landscape Architecture 

  • Urban Design 

  • Agricultural Engineering 

  • Civil Engineering and Transportation 

  • Energy and Electrical Power Management (i.e. energy management, consumption, efficiency, production, conversion and transmission, primarily of a non-nuclear nature) 

  • Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) 

Innovation & entrepreneurship 
  • Agricultural entrepreneurship 

  • Civic innovation 

  • Intrapreneurship 

  • Social entrepreneurship 

Life sciences 
  • Aspects of Chemistry (i.e. organic and biochemistry) 

  • Biological Sciences 

  • Environmental and Ecological Sciences 

  • Plant and Crop Sciences 

  • Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) 

  • Zoology and Animal Sciences 

Inactive collecting areas

The following areas are no longer actively acquired:

  1. Papers and records relating to the Evolution/Creation debate
  2. Statistics-related papers and records unrelated to the American Statistical Association
  3. Underground Comics and Science Fiction publication
  4. ISU yearbooks (The Bomb)

Rare books

Geographical considerations

The majority of current collections are from North American and western Europe; however, material from other areas may be considered.

Chronological considerations

Preference for early editions of books published in the 15th through 19th centuries. Books published in the early 20th century may be considered for inclusion depending on the field, historical significance, value, and other features.

Artists' books: no chronological limits.

Iowa Cookbooks: no chronological limits.

Language considerations

Books of all languages are considered.


Subject areas – Primary

  • General works
  • Plant Culture
  • Gardening and Landscape Architecture
  • Animal Culture
  • Veterinary Medicine
  • Astronomy
  • Physics
  • Chemistry and Alchemy
  • Geology
  • Natural History
  • Biology
  • Botany
  • Zoology
  • Mechanical engineering and machinery
  • Hydraulic engineering
  • Agricultural engineering
  • Architectural engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Mining and metallurgy

Subject areas – Secondary

  • Artist’s books
  • Costume, dress, and fashion
  • Domestic science, home economics, and household management
  • Incunabula
  • Iowa cookbooks
  • Literature
    • Charles Dickens
    • Science Fiction: particularly focusing on diversifying the representation of authors from underrepresented communities 


Inactive collecting areas

The following areas are no longer actively acquired:

  • Papers and records relating to the Evolution/Creation debate
  • Statistics-related papers and records unrelated to the American Statistical Association

Acceptance of materials

  • Transfer of records procedure: The University Archives will accept the transfer of university records scheduled for permanent retention (see Records Retention Schedule) and those with historical value, as determined by SCUA staff. It will not accept records that are scheduled for destruction. University records considered for transmittal to the University Archives must be reviewed by the University Archivist before transfer acceptance. Donations of faculty, staff, student, and other manuscript collections, as well as rare books, must be approved by a curator before acceptance.
  • Deeds of gift: Special Collections and University Archives will not accept materials without a legal transfer of title through a deed of gift, transfer of records form, or other official acknowledgement.
  • Loans and deposits: Special Collections and University Archives will not accept materials on loan or for deposit.
  • Closed collections: Special Collections and University Archives will not accept materials that are closed to the public in perpetuity; all restricted materials will be designated with an opening date prior to donation/transfer acceptance by Special Collections and University Archives.
  • Deaccessioning: Materials that do not reflect the Special Collections and University Archives' collecting scope or do not possess sufficient archival value may be deaccessioned, subject to the documented terms of acquisition, university regulations, and state and federal laws. Duplicate materials may be routinely discarded as well.



Special Collections and University Archives reserves the right to amend its collection development policy at any time.

Procedures for review

This collection development policy is designed to serve the mission and goals of Iowa State University, its Library, and its Special Collections and University Archives. In order to determine the effectiveness of this policy Special Collections and University Archives periodically will review the acquisitions, user records, and deaccessions. The policy will be re-evaluated and changed as needed to meet the goals of Iowa State University, its Library, and its Special Collections and University Archives.