Where do I start with my archive?

Where do I start with my archive?

Carleen Dekarski Theory in action

“I have a bunch of old newspapers, letters, photos, scrapbooks, minute books and just generally “old stuff”, what should I do with it?  Where do I start? Do I need to set up an archive?”

First off, just because it is “old stuff” this does not necessarily mean it has “enduring value” as archives. Whether or not something has “enduring value” will of course be answered differently depending on your situation. What is “enduring value”? In the case of archives, it is a measure of importance (value) applied that justifies the permanent retention of records . For example, my telephone bills from 1997 that I haven’t yet got around to throwing out I would find hard pressed to want or need to keep forever. However a telephone company might have an archive in which they have chosen to keep a sampling of design styles they issued to customers to show how their company evolved through the years.

How do you know what has enduring value? This will clearly differ with who you are and what you do (business, church, school, club, family etc). The value of a record will be attributed in many different ways given our differing situations. However, to narrow the field we can look at value from two points – primary and secondary.

  • Primary – administrative, financial, legal requirements – do I have to retain a record because of a prescribed obligation
  • Secondary – historical, informational

The value attributed will certainly be determined by the types of records you are holding, who they were created by and for what purpose they were made.

For example, after 7 years the administrative tax records for a business can, from a legal perspective, be disposed but the annual reports may be chosen to be retained permanently as they hold a summary of the finance information and achievements of the organisation over the years so they hold strong historical and informational value.

Or, for a family, a dusty box of photographs are found in the attic showing an unknown lady on a trip around the country during the 1920’s. No one knows who the person is but the photographs are originals and have locations and dates written on the back of them. The family may decide they see no value in retaining the photographs as they have no connection to them. However, they choose to approach local archives in the areas noted on the photographsto see if they are interested in appraising them to see if they hold any historical value for their district. So, where to start?

The Audit

Firstly you need to understand what have you got. Until you know what you have then it is difficult to plan any further. So some simple questions you can start with are as follows. I use a simple Excel spreadsheet which makes searching, sorting, adding and subtracting columns or rows super easy.

  • What is it? e.g. photo album, box of letters, minute books
  • Where is it?
  • Who created it and why?
  • When was it created?
  • It is original or copies?
  • How much is there?
  • What format is it in e.g. books, photo albums, film, letters?
  • What condition is it in?

Once this is done we can look at the next steps – Acquistion and Appraisal. These will follow in the next article coming soon.

I have attached a    Collection Audit Template (15.7 KiB) that might of use to help you get started in finding out what you have. Please feel free to use this and share it. A reference back to this site would be appreciated in return. Any feedback you have on using it would be great.

Recognition: Pathway by Paul Jarvis, licensed under Creative Commons Zero, published with thanks from www.arcavee.com


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