Thursday, July 30, 2009

Is Appraisal a Science? Part 1 of 2

Ham (1984) discusses problems with the age of abundance when administrating modern records, such as bulk, redundancy, and impermanence. The growing preservation demands of modern records coupled with the sacrifices made by pursuing less effective alternatives, Ham argues convincingly, require archivists to ensure optimal use is made of scarce resources through effective planning and evaluation of archival options. Ham cites six important elements in archival collections management—interinstitutional cooperation, documented application of appraisal procedures, de-accessioning, pre-archival control, record-volume reduction, and analysis and planning—which he maintains, while by no means all-inclusive, will, if applied judiciously, rationalize and streamline archival acquisition and appraisal. He states that archivists need to create practices that work for their repositories, rather than following past practices blindly.

Craig (2004) agrees with site-specific practices, as she discusses the history and uses of macro-appraisal, documentation strategy, and the Minnesota method. She compares the three types of appraisal and seeks common elements between strategies. She also stresses the need to create appraisal policies by committees, so that holdings cannot be skewed by an individual’s viewpoint.

Duranti (1994) offers a theoretical approach to appraisal, rather than methodological or practical one. She asks, “Should appraisal be made an integral and necessary component of archival science and, as such determine a revision of all its accepted methods and practices?” (330). She examines concepts of perpetual memory and public faith, ideas that originated from Roman law, and states that archivists are mediators between creators and users. Duranti follows the tradition set down by Jenkinson: the archivists’ primary duty is to preserve the evidentiary nature of the archives, known as the “moral defense of the archives” (337). Archivists would betray their primary responsibility “if [they] did not try to preserve the societal archive in its integrity, with its characteristics intact, and do so impartially…and as objectively as…possible” (343). For Duranti, archivists are not documenters, interpreters, or judges of societal deeds because they have “a responsibility to future generations of letting them…judge…society on the basis of the documents it produced” (343).

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