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In this month’s blog we are going to explore the idea of appraisal and how records, documents and photographs become archives. Firstly let’s take a look at the definition of appraisal.
What is appraisal?
As usual when we look at archival theory and practice we must consider the ideas of Jenkinson and Schellenberg:
Jenkinson said that the process of appraisal should not be carried out by the archivist but the creator of records. "[The Archivists] Creed, the Sanctity of Evidence; his Task, the Conservation of every Scrap of Evidence attaching to the Documents committed to his charge; his Aim, to provide, without prejudice or afterthought, for all who wish to know the Means of Knowledge." (Jenkinson, Hilary, "The English archivist: a new profession", in Ellis and Walne 1980, pp. 236–59 (258–9).)
However Schellenberg, Jenkinson’s contemporary, argued that archivists should be involved in the appraisal process the archivist is by definition “the professional who selects documents used for administrative purposes and preserves them, mainly for scholarly use.” (Livelton, Archival Theory, Records and the Public, 67).
Today appraisal is still about the selection of records and archivists are more likely to be involved in this process rather than just taking in records selected by the creators and accessioning them without any appraisal work. They will of course follow a collection policy to determine what can be accepted into their collections however there are a variety of theories or methods which may or may not affect how they examine material as potential archives.
What are the different methods of appraisal?
There are many methods of appraisal; these are just a few with some quick definitions:
This is a more active strategy for collecting records and considers cross discipline approaches to use expertise from different fields not just archives. It requires archivists to look at documents in more detail to ensure they archive records relating to different issues, activities or localities.
Macro-appraisal and functional analysis
This is a top down approach to analysing records and deciding if they should be archived. It assesses the value of records at an organisational level rather than looking at individual files or items.
Pragmatic acquisition strategy (1990s Minnesota Historical Society)
This involves a top down approach analysing the records of businesses against what has already been archived. It then creates levels to determine how thoroughly activities should be document from thoroughly documented to preserving the minimum amount of evidence required.
Record based analysis
Also known as a micro-appraisal or bottom up approach, archivists will appraise records by analysing the content and context of individual items in the collection; usually applied to small acquisitions. As most of what we take in externally and internally are small collections this is usually my preferred method of appraisal. However it doesn’t mean that I would always analyse records in this way.
Although there is guidance and a number of theories for archivists to follow it is important to remember there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to appraisal.
Our recent accessions
As we have been discussing the selection of archive material and the process where records become archives I thought I would share with you some the items which have become part of the Royal Voluntary Service Heritage Collection this year.
Since January we have had 5 long service medals, 2 clasps and 1 MBE donated to the collection from past volunteers all who would have been completing 40-60 volunteer duties a year for 15 to 27 years. Most of these donations have also been accompanied by biographies and personal papers relating to the volunteers work with WVS/WRVS.
Local Office Material
Local Royal Voluntary Service branches sometimes send us materials for the archives, this year we have had photographs and newspaper cuttings from East Kilbride, publicity materials from West Sussex and photographs, a plaque and medal from Litchfield Darby and Joan Club.
Knitting, marketing and publicity
We have also received some more items which are a bit different to what you might imagine archives collect including: knitted dolls with a knitted 80 created for our anniversary last year; publications created about the charity, it’s activities and the OXO Tower Exhibition and two articles one from Wiltshire Life Magazine and one in the Journal of the Social History Society on salvage during the Second World War.
Appraisal is an essential part of an archivist role when considering the acquisition of new material into the collection. Over the years and since Jenkinson first wrote down his theories on the archivist’s role in appraisal it has changed and developed. Now most archivists will follow Schellenberg’s idea of being involved in the process and sometimes take it further and are more active than even he intended. Today there are many methods which archivists may use to appraise material but they can be split in most cases in to two categories a top down approach which appraises on the basis of analysing whole collections. The other is a bottom up approach which appraises collections on a file or item basis. However Archivist may not always think in terms of which theory they will use they will always try to fairly appraise everything that may become part of their collection. As is evident above archives still receive many items on a monthly/yearly basis for their consideration.