Somehow that subject line works better when spoken than when written.

In the cultural heritage industry, some say 'collections care' while others say 'collection care'. While it is not a strict rule, the convention in English is to use the singular form of a noun when that noun is used as an adjective. Most of us have little trouble choosing the better form of the following:

  • Fire truck vs fires truck (yet most of these will work on more than one fire)
  • Investment broker vs investments broker (yet most of these deal with more than one investment)
  • Nail file vs nails file (yet, you guessed it, most of these will file more than one nail)

Now, I personally find 'collections care' an awkward and bothersome homonym, and thus also related phrases such as 'collections management'. However, it has been suggested to me that the term 'collection management' is used extensively by the debt-collection industry, and therefore to avoid search result entanglement we in the heritage profession should stick to 'collections'. 

Clearly it was time to gather some evidence. On 2014 September 6, using an anonymizing program I searched 'collections management' and 'collection management' using Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Ignoring advertisement results provided the following counts:

The 'other' category mostly referred to 'intelligence collection' activities.

The appropriate statistical test for significance in differences in these results is a two-tailed Z test. With this test we find there is no significant evidence in these data of preference in the cultural collection management field for either the singular or plural form (Z-Score = 1.2484; p = 0.2113). The data do reveal a significant preference for the plural form 'collections management' in the financial (debt collection) field (Z-Score = -3.2103 p = 0.00132). The data reveal a significant preference for use of the singular form in all other fields combined, although examples from these other fields were sparse (Z-Score = 3.4392 p = 0.00058).

So, if we in the heritage industry want to distance ourselves from the popular understanding of debt collection, as revealed by search results provided by commonly used internet search engines, then we should use the singular form: 'collection management'.

Still, I do not think this is the most important consideration. Another consideration of some importance is whether the use of the term 'collections management' might seem to exclude or marginalize persons who only manage a single collection, even is that collection might contain over a million items. Although I do not take that too seriously, it is a consideration that only applies if we adopt the plural form in a situation where generally preferred English grammar would suggest the singular form be used. In other words, no one with a title of 'Collections Manager' is going to feel marginalized from the subject of 'collection management' while the reverse is at least possible, and maybe true to some degree. This is in contrast to 'collections management' in the debt collection sense, where virtually all workers deal with multiple collection transactions—perhaps that is the reason for their preference of the plural.

Most important to me, however, is that it is natural for professionals in our field to identify strongly with their responsibilities for the particular collection or collection units under their care. Unfortunately, I believe this happens to the partial exclusion of the general development of the field of collection management. I think this is a slight but somewhat insidious tendency which has contributed to a slower than necessary development of professionalism in the collection management community. Too few professionals actively engage in the development of 'collection management' as a professional field of endeavour and are content to consider their professional boundaries beginning and ending with the set of collections they are assigned to manage. In my opinion, to adopt the plural form contributes to this problem instead of nudging away from it.

However, if for no other reason, an aversion to being confused with a debt collector should steer us to the singular side!