Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Review of Navigating Legal Issues in Archives

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives

My review of Navigating Legal Issues in Archives by Menzi L. Behrnd-Klodt (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008).
Published in Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(3), 2009.

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives is an updated version of 1985’s Archives and Manuscripts: Law from the Society of American Archivists’ Basic Manual series. Since the earlier volume’s publication, laws have changed significantly and society has become increasingly litigious. Attorney and archivist Menzi Behrnd-Klodt created a new handbook for an intended audience of “archival professionals, including employees, consultants, and volunteers in public and private institutions; in business/corporate, religious, academic/scholarly, historical society, museum, and governmental settings; those who spend their professional lives among archival colleagues, and those who are ‘lone arrangers’” (v). In other words, anyone who works with records of enduring value will find this book useful at all stages of their career.

Aiming to provide a volume to serve archivists for decades, Behrnd-Klodt provided general legal information in succinct chapters. Divided into four sections by theme, the volume is to be “dipped into” when archivists need “complex issues … explained simply” (vi). The first section sets the legal framework for the rest of the book, explaining policies and procedures, working effectively with counsel, and explaining legal processes and civil litigation. Section 2 explores issues of acquisition and ownership, including transfer, appraisal, loans, abandoned materials, tax issues, and risk management. The third section—the largest—deals with administration and access to the archives, privacy, and confidentiality, as well as implications of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Family and Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and cultural property laws. The final section provides advice on copyright and intellectual property law.

The chapters stand alone and are accessible as need and time permits, which enhances the book’s value as a source of timely advice flexible enough in format to serve as a ready reference book. Each chapter explains why the content is important and who will find it most useful, allowing the busy professional to select chapters relevant to their interests. For instance, laws regulate access to legal, educational, medical, public, and presidential records; those who do not work with these records may want to skim or skip chapters pertaining to them. Of particular interest to most archivists, especially in smaller institutions in which records programs are part of their duties, is the chapter on legal issues of records and information management. Also included are sample legal documents and forms, such as donor, deaccession, and loan agreements; important statues; a copyright term chart; and an extensive notes section.

Navigating Legal Issues in Archives
offers vital, laconic information for the industrious archivist seeking informed discussions and practical recommendations for the myriad legal issues abounding in an increasingly complex information age. This reference book of legal information through the prism of archival management deserves a rightful place on the bookshelves of all archivists.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 5 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 3
Part 4

Whatever the circumstances, reappraisal and deaccessioning are useful tools for preserving records of enduring value when used strategically rather than on a case-by-case basis. Reappraisal and deaccessioning should be “public and transparent … as normal a part of standard archives administration as cataloging and reference” (Greene, p. 8). Wojcik noted that reappraisal and deaccessioning guidelines built trust with state agencies to transfer records to the State Archives of Michigan. Knies’ project was touted to stakeholders as a way to reduce costs, although it was one of many benefits. Greene observed that donors supported deaccessioning as a tool to improve access for researchers using their records.

The articles presented reappraisal and deaccessioning projects as beneficial to archives. The goals of the projects were to make deaccessioning consistent across all collections; construct better guidelines for acquisitions, appraisal, reappraisals, and deaccessioning; achieve greater intellectual and physical control over the records; and understand why records were preserved. Materials of marginal value are deaccessioned before valuable time is invested in processing them. Archivists may then concentrate their efforts solely on records with confirmed archival value. Knies was the only author to review the success of the project after its completion. Seven years later, he notes that paper records are no longer a problem as they once were because of the growth of technology. The larger problem we face is a decline in the quality of records being captured for transfer, as well as missing documentation that exists primarily in electronic form. However, this is another issue for the professional literature to debate.

Works Cited

American Association of Museums. (1994). Code of Ethics for Museums. (Washington, DC: American Association of Museums).

Ericson, T. (1991) ‘At the rim of creative dissatisfaction’: Archivists and acquisitions development. Archivaria, 33, 66-77.

Greene, M. A. (2006). I’ve deaccessioned and lived to tell about it: Confessions of an unrepentant reappraiser. Archival Issues, 30(1), 7-22.

Ham, F. G. (1984). Archival choices: Managing the historical record in the age of abundance,” American Archivist, 47(1), 11-22.

Knies, H. M. (2006). Reappraising and reaccessioning Wisconsin state government records: An agency-wide approach. Archival Issues, 30(1), 35-43.

Pearce-Moses, R. (2005). A glossary of archival and records terminology. (Chicago: Society of American Archivists) Retrieved February 5, 2009, from Society of American Archivists Web site:

Wojcik, C. (2002). Appraisal, reappraisal, and deaccessioning. Archival Issues, 27(2), 151-160.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Reappraisal and Deaccessioning: A Literature Review Part 4 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 3
Part 5

Interestingly enough, space seems to be the catalyst for reluctant archivists to reappraise, as in the case of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which outgrew its repository. Since the 1950s, the Wisconsin state government became a “profusion of regulatory functions, the concurrent proliferation of bureaucratic systems, and the resultant explosion of records” (p. 36). Knies describes how the collection increased based on appraisal policies that were reevaluated during reappraisal. The “Wisconsin Way” of accessioning public records while also soliciting manuscripts with “expansive and sometimes even exhaustive” documentation dates from the mid-nineteenth century (p. 37). He writes,
One finds appraisals in the archival case files describing both the content and context of records series and assigning values for acquisitions decisions that derive from the larger collecting interests of the Historical Society’s manuscripts holdings and its North American history library. For example, these [appraisal values give] primary significance to the records’ contribution to potential researchers’ understanding of topics of health, welfare, economics, crime and punishment, social mores and others. Only secondarily would the appraisal credit the importance of how the records defined the original regulatory function (p. 38).
Additionally, the public record appraisal process evaluated “individual series one at time, largely out of context, and without any supporting records management structure” (p. 37).

Similarly, Wojcik describes factors—a larger facility, professional staff increase, and vague appraisal criteria—that contributed to the considerable backlog at the State Archives of Michigan. Archivists accessioned records that were not scheduled for preservation due to poor quality retention and disposal schedules developed by records management services. Archivists also accessioned anything with potential value, planning to weed them during processing.