So you said yes – now what?

So you said yes – now what? The art of appraisal

Carleen Dekarski Managing archives

Now you have an Archive Policy which outlines the purpose and collecting policies of the archive, you can appraise any potential material to this framework and decide which will be taken into the archive through the acquisition process.

As mentioned previously in “The art of saying no – Acquisition”, in an ideal world appraisal would occur before signing the deposit agreement. The deposit agreement is the official point of transfer, it records the transaction and sets out the conditions under which the material has been acquired and used so this becomes quite important if you have not had a chance to appraise the material prior to taking it on.

Appraisal is the art of surveying the records and making decisions about which ones are suitable to enter the archive collection. There is no hard and fast rule here but it is imperative to have a good intellectual knowledge on your archive policy and the subject matter you are dealing with in order to make academically based selection decisions. This is where the archival value of material is determined and this can only be done successfully with an understanding of what you are dealing with. It is impossible to force a one size fits all approach however there is a list of criteria that can be applied.

Research, research, research

Before even starting – research, research, research is imperative. Understanding what you are looking at and the issues that might impact decisions on how you apply weighting of value.

For example, our archive came into possession of a large number of newspapers from a now defunct regional newspaper. Normally copies of such a newspaper would be expected to be held with the National Library however upon further research it was revealed there was a large gap in their collection and no other examples of the paper appeared to exist in our region. The decision to dispose these newspapers without discovering the truth would have left a very large gap in a small regional towns history.


What else is out there that can help you make appraisal decisions? For example Taxation Acts, Heritage Protection Acts, Public Records Act? What other archives out there that might be similar and can provide you with guidance on your decision making.

Examine with an open mind

The core factors we can apply relate to asking the question do these records show valuable administrative, legal, historically interesting qualities.

In addition with our research hat on, while examining the material, we are attempting to apply the above factors but also continue to learn more by understanding the content, context and structure contained within. Why did the creator arrange and name them this way? Who might use these records and for what purpose? What does this tell us about the organisation or person? How old are these records? Are they unique? Is there another archive that might require them? How much of it is there – can you keep a sample? What type of material is it – can you keep the summary database instead of 5 volumes of entries? What is the access restrictions on them, copyright?

While examining remember to keep an open mind, do not disturb the original order and just because you may not be interested in or agree with the material do not let this negatively influence your decision making. Take your time. I have found if I have been unsure on an issue it is easier to hold the records longer until more research can be done than later regret a disposal decision.

Once you have made your selection to take forward into the archive – what next? Well we want to be able to find it now right? So we better get arranging and describing.

I have put together a cheat sheet that might be of assistance when undertaking the art of appraisal.    Appraising Archives (28.5 KiB)

Recognition: Mona Lisa by Eric Terrade, licensed under Creative Commons Zero, published with thanks from

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