The term ‘collection’ is used in its broadest sense in the OFC context. It refers to any specific group of physical or digital things. The word specific is used deliberately to emphasise that this is a pre-specified group of objects bounded in some specific way by, for example, type (eg. letters) or location (eg. attic) or container (eg. folder). Collections may include almost anything – large (eg.vintage cars), small (eg. coins), or diverse (eg. a jumble of all sorts of stuff in an attic).
Some collections are started deliberately (eg. stamps); however, others just emerge accidentally and build up over time. Sometimes we put things in places or in piles as a holding mechanism with the intention of doing something with them at a later date. Often, we never get round to doing whatever it was we were going to do – and we may even keep adding items to the collection. In other cases, we start out with a set of things in an organised state (eg. in wardrobes or kitchen cupboards or file boxes) but as we add things and use things and fail to discard useless items, a much enlarged, disorganised collection emerges over a period of time.
Collections owned by one particular person are simpler to apply OFC techniques to as there is only one person who has to make decisions about the objects. It is usually more complicated when collections are owned by two or more people as is the case when, for example, a couple clear out the contents of their garage. Of course, it is even more complicated to apply OFC techniques to collections owned by other people, as, for example, when someone attempts to assist an older infirm relative move out of their house. In all circumstances where two or more people are involved, it is necessary for all parties to agree about what to do with each object; and it is preferable that they should all positively buy-in to what has been agreed.
One other type of owner may also need to be considered in an OFC exercise; that is the family member, other person, or organisation to whom a collection may be given upon the death of the current owner. Aids to help owners think through the requirements of such parties will be discussed in this tutorial.
Most collections will consist of objects which are either all physical or all digital; though some collections (such as the collection of household files described elsewhere in this site) are a hybrid of both physical and digital. Of course, after an OFC exercise has been completed, a collection may well have become a hybrid containing either some physical objects and some digital objects, or some objects which are present in both physical and digital forms; or perhaps a combination of both these hybrid forms. Elsewhere in this tutorial the notion of optimising the hybrid will be explored – that is, the ability to make best use of the particular advantages offered by the physical and the digital respectively.
Most collections are in place to be able to use the items within them in some way or other. However, often, much of the content remains untouched, unseen, or even forgotten. An important objective of OFC techniques is to inspire new ways to exploit the contents of collections – to bring them to life, to make them more visible, and to enable their owners to enjoy them.