Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 3 of 5

This post is part of a series on a literature review of reappraisal and deaccessioning in archival collections. Click on a link below to read further:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5

The articles advised that a strategic reappraisal and deaccessioning plan was needed to avoid the possibility of negative reactions from resource allocators, peer institutions, donors, researchers, and colleagues. Reappraisal and deaccessioning are controversial because the archives symbolize permanence, and archivists view themselves as impartial guardians of the past, which are both illusions. Greene writes, “We have inadvertently weakened our repositories and our professional standing by our unwillingness and lack of action,” and the profession is difficult “not because we are good at saving things, but because we are able and willing to decide what does not get saved” (p. 8, 11).

He also notes that the professional literature rarely discusses reappraisal and deaccessioning. For instance, Terry Cook’s 2000 appraisal bibliography reports that 3.5 percent of the listings were about these topics. Some articles inadvertently discuss it, such as Timothy Ericson’s 1991 article “‘At the Rim of Creative Dissatisfaction’: Archivists and Acquisitions Development,” which urges archivists to define “collecting focus” for better acquisitions (p. 66). Wojcik used reappraisal strategies to define why records were preserved (the “collecting focus”) at the State Archives of Michigan.

Greene believes that archivists avoid reappraisal because reconsidering past decisions may dramatically change their collections. Wojcik reports fiery debates among her own colleagues regarding reevaluation for this reason. She writes, “The goal of these projects was not to influence a radical shift in the State Archives’ collecting practices (the scope and purpose of the collection), but to document why certain records were preserved and others were not” (p. 154). Additionally, the staff questioned reevaluating past decisions, when the backlog was believed to contain many records of marginal value. Greene writes,
Gerry Ham, who issued a famous jeremiad against archivist becoming “nothing more than a weathervane moved by the changing winds of historiography,” a decade later embraced reappraisal and deaccessioning as a “creative and sophisticated” act “that will permit holdings to be refined and strengthened. It allows archivists to replace records of lesser value with collections of more significance, and it prevents the imposition of imperfect and incomplete decisions of the past on the future.” (Ham, p. 13, as cited in Greene, p. 9).

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