Deep in the closets, basements, and storage spaces of every house usually lies several boxes of programs, flyers, buttons, and other ephemera from movies, performances, plays, museums, or other events or places that a person attended or organized and wanted to remember. In the most casual definition, this is an archive or archival collection. According to, an archive is:

ar⋅chive /ˈɑrkaɪv/ Pronunciation [ahr-kahyv] noun, verb, -chived, -chiv⋅ing.
1. Usually, archives. documents or records relating to the activities, business dealings, etc., of a person, family, corporation, association, community, or nation.
2. archives, a place where public records or other historical documents are kept.
3. any extensive record or collection of data: The encyclopedia is an archive of world history. The experience was sealed in the archive of her memory.
–verb (used with object)
4. to place or store in an archive: to vote on archiving the city’s historic documents.
1595–1605; orig., as pl. < F archives < L archī(v)a < Gk archeîa, orig. pl. of archeîon public office, equiv. to arch() magistracy, office + -eion suffix of place

According to this definition, both the location and the items can be defined as an “archive.” (For the purposes of keeping the place to store an archive and the items in an archive separate, I will use “archive” to describe the location of the archive and “collection” for the group of items.)

If under this definition, even the stuff in your closet constitutes a collection, then how do you determine how valuable a collection/archive is?

For this survey, we were looking for collections that related to Asian/Pacific Americans in the New York City metropolitan area. We started by contacting community organizations and individuals who we (the A/P/A Institute) were in contact with. These were organizations or individuals who we felt would have important archives documenting their work and/or the work of the community. This included Asian/Pacific American non-profit service organizations, theatre groups, performing arts collectives, artists, and many others.

The collections that these individuals and organizations have were created from self-produced documentation of the work that they did, in addition to the materials they collected surrounding their work. For each person or organization, the contents in their collections varied. A collection for an organization may include: meeting minutes, meeting notes, programming files, and calendars. The collections could also include artifacts such as costumes, musical instruments, or banners, depending on the organization’s functions. An individual’s collection also varies based on the work and collecting habits of the individual. The contents of each person or organization’s are described in the “scope and content note” on each individual survey’s page.