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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This involves a top down approach analysing the records of businesses against what has already been archived.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.
It’s another of those
famous lines from a Sherlock Holmes story “Data! data! data!" he cried
impatiently. "I can't make bricks without clay.” (The Adventure of the
Copper Beeches) but it can be applied to many areas including archival practice
particularly digitisation. Archives @PAMA recently covered the topic of digitisation
in their blog Why Don’t Archivists Digitise Everything? Part of their argument covered Meta Data and how
important it was to give archives context before digitisation. This has
inspired us, in this week’s blog I would like to look more at the importance of
cataloguing records before digitising them in relation to the Royal Voluntary
Service Archive and Heritage Collection.
What is cataloguing?
Cataloguing is the
process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival
collection. This is based on a hierarchical structure showing where Items,
files and series best fit within a collection and describes details such as the
content, context, admin and custodial history, date and access details.
Cataloguing records can help to make collections more accessible with details
and keywords which help researchers find what they are looking for and link
different records together on the same topics. If you would like to know more
about Archival description why not read Organising Archive material HeritageBulletin Volume 6.
Why is it important for digitisation?
important to digitisation because it turns a single item on its own which may
not tell us much about the activities of an organisation into a record which
has context, a history of its own and links it to the rest of the collection.
For example when cataloguing photographs, publications or posters if there are similar
items or a series relating to each other we record their references in the
Related Material Field. This helps lead researchers in looking at all the
material available on a chosen topic. Recording this data before digitising
records also gives the archivists the opportunity to assess the preservation needs
of the material and repackage it into archival standard folders, boxes, papers
etc.. It also allows of consultation on the need to digitise material and if digitised
material could be published online depending on condition, content and
copyright. This work can be very important in terms of preservation and access.
Our Collections and how cataloguing has helped make them more
parts of the Archive & Heritage Collection has allowed us to publish the catalogue records online for people to search for themselves. This work has
given the team a greater knowledge of what materials are held in the collection
and led in some case to digitisation.
Photographs and Posters
The Archive has been
focusing on cataloguing and digitising records since 2010 and started with a
collection of publicity photographs. Creating detailed descriptions of
photographs allows researchers to find photographs easily and quickly by
searching key words. Cataloguing also allows the Charity to record useful data
about copyright holders and to distinguish which images can be used in
promoting its rich history and heritage in many of the services it provides
today. The Poster collection was catalogued and digitised in 2012 which has
provided the same advantages as the photographs.
WVS/WRVS Bulletin/Magazine and WRVSAssociation
Over the years Royal
Voluntary Service has produced a number of publications including magazines
containing news stories and information about its activities and that of the
Association (1971-2013). Using the description field on our catalogue to its
advantage and OCR software we were able to record all the information in each WVS/WRVS
Bulletin/Magazine and WRVS Association Newsletters and make it searchable. Being
able to do such a specific search can save time in trying to find articles
covering particular services or activities. Recording months and dates also allows
us to pin point key dates such as the first Trolley shop or mobile canteen.
Between March 2012
and March 2014 we catalogued all the Narrative Reports held in the collection
which were written between 1938 and 1965. The information recorded included the
areas the reports were from and this work enabled the archive to develop the
Kickstarter Project Hidden histories of a million wartime women. The £27,724
raised via the crowdfunding site meant we could digitise all the reports
written between 1938 and 1945 and publish them online. This allows more people
access to these hugely important documents and it all started with a
The items mentioned
above are also very fragile and cataloguing means we can pinpoint the exact
records we are looking for without rifling through a number of documents before
finding the correct information. Digitisation which leads on from this helps us further in preserving fragile items
as digital images are used as preservation copies for research meaning we
reduce handling the original. Cataloguing also assist with the creation of
finding aids such as the Guide to Archive Online; using data and description
fields from the catalogue means we can assist researchers in their search for
more knowledge about WVS/WRVS.
I have not included
Voice of Volunteering Oral Histories in this week’s Blog as they are born
digital records and in a future blog we’ll look at the difference between
digitisation and born digital.
Cataloguing is the
process of creating a formal description of records held within an archival
collection. It is important to create these records before digitising to
provide context and allow archivists to assess the need for the material to be
digitised. Working on a project to both catalogue and digitise material can
also help with preservation and digitisation which are very important activities
in archives. Since 2010 Royal Voluntary Service has been working to catalogue
its collection which as a result has led to some interesting digitisation
projects including photographs, Narrative Reports and publications. However
without the first stage of creating information about the these records this
work could not have been carried out.
Did you know that the Archive
& Heritage Collection runs an enquiry service? Do you wonder what people
In May we received a very
interesting enquiry asking what information we held in our Archives about Queen
Mary’s Carpet and how its sale in 1950-1951 was coordinated by WVS.
to this question is a simple but important one we hold two files one in our Central Registry
collection discussing the how the carpets journey from the Victoria and Albert
Museum to America, its tour around the USA and Canada and how it raised money
for the united Kingdom after the War. The other is a file of miscellaneous
memoranda containing leaflets, postcards, souvenir booklets and letters - the
story these records tell is fascinating.
In 1950 Queen Mary gave the
nation a carpet that she had been embroidering between 1941 and 1946 and
measures 10ft 2inches by 6ft 9.5inches has a unique floral design and signed
Mary R, the boarder was made by the Royal School of Needle Work. Her Majesty
decided to give the nation the carpet to help ‘bridge the dollar gap’, created
by the war, money raised would go to the National Exchequer as she thought that
everyone should contribute something to the country in its time of need. The
Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire (IODE) were responsible for raising the
much needed dollars while WVS were responsible for the carpets tour of US and
Canadian public institutions. Lady Reading was made acting chief of staff of
The Carpet was first displayed in
the Victoria and Albert Museum before traveling to North America on the Queen Mary.
The Carpet arrived in New York on 20th March and was exhibited there
for 5 days before traveling around 15 other main cities in America and Canada including
Ottawa (Ontario), Washington DC, Los Angeles (California), Seattle (Washington), Vancouver (British Columbia),
Toronto (Ontario) and Montreal (Quebec). On its
tour the carpet was accompanied by a WVS volunteer who commented that it was the most exciting three months of her life and at in that time she and the carpet traveled 14,000 miles and was seen by 400,000 people.
After its tour the IODE purchased
the carpet and toured it across Canada, raising at least another $100,000 for
the British Exchequer. The carpet was presented to the National Gallery of Canada
at the end of its tour. It is now kept in the gallery’s collections.
If you have a question about the
Archive’s or the History of Royal Voluntary Service why not contact our enquiryservice today,
we look forward to hearing from you.