What is collections mapping?

In the field of cultural heritage 'collections mapping' is an adaptation of the technique of cultural mapping.

The following description is taken from J. Randall and A. Tindall, 2010, Guide to Collections Mapping [download] Collections Council of Australia, Adelaide, p 6.


Collections mapping involves the gathering of information about collections in a particular region, with a view to recording, planning and working strategically across the region, in order to support the care and use of those collections. 

Collections mapping projects in Australia and overseas have gathered information about: 

• Facilities: including storage, security, public spaces and access; 

• Professional Resources: staff education and training, outreach programs, policies and standards, cataloguing and indexing, IT and digital resources; 

• Financial considerations: funding sources, governance, visitation, ticket   pricing; 

• Collections: strengths and weaknesses, common themes, preservation needs, relationships with other collections and organisations, and other matters.  

The mapping of such information enables regional and inter-regional comparisons of services and facilities, whilst providing an indication of well-managed facilities and those that need improving. Such mapping projects have been used to determine funding priorities (English Archival Mapping Project 1999-2001), to identify gaps in knowledge and produce recommendations to assist in future research and development of collections (North West Regional Archive Council 2002), and to gather a summary of the depth and scope of the collection (National Library of the Czech Republic Conspectus Project 2005). 

Collections mapping can be tailored to any scale, and can be done across a single organisation, such as in the National Library of the Czech Republic, or an entire country, as in the case of the English Archival Mapping project. It can provide an understanding of the strengths and development needs of collections, and can be used to inform collection management policies and conservation and acquisition priorities. 

Collection mapping can also happen across regions along thematic lines. The South Australian Medical Heritage Society is an example of this. Initiated in 1984 by two retired medical practitioners, the Society records information about historic medical objects kept in public and private collections in South Australia. Their goal is the listing and documentation of these objects. They encourage medically themed exhibits, and facilitate some loans between institutions. Awareness of these objects, collected and managed in diverse circumstances, can help ensure their preservation for the future, and encourage valuable collaboration on research and exhibitions.

Jesse Shore at work

 Associate Dr Jesse Shore at work in Sydney, Australia

Collections mapping can be useful in prioritising resources or encouraging collaboration. It can be a tool for identifying commonalities of purpose and need. It can also get the community talking about their needs, and generate valuable mutual awareness.

In Significance 2.0: a guide to assessing the significance of collections, authors Roslyn Russell and Kylie Winkworth describe the distributed collection of material relating to the Kelly Gang. The story of Ned Kelly and his gang has captivated Australians for generations, and has inspired art, literature and films. The collection includes pieces of armour held in libraries and museums, records of Kelly’s arrest and imprisonment held in archives, and artistic representations of Kelly and his gang in art galleries. 

Understanding of Kelly and his historic, social and artistic significance is enriched by considering all of these objects and records, across the boundaries of the individual collections or collecting domains that care for them e.g. archives, libraries and museums.

Collections mapping is most successful when it reaches across traditionally separated collecting domains. This will lead to new connections and new understandings of collections, which will help inform their management and use.