From: Patent Tactics, George Brock-Nannestad
this thread is important to persons engaged in collections that they consider
to have a value beyond the personal satisfaction of owning it - part of the
ARSCLIST participants and of the ARSC membership. If not of interest, skip
Latest Don Andes commented on Karl Miller's previous mail, and we are
fortunate that it was on-list, rather than off-list.
I have a few comments:
the questions we ask using historical facts in whatever way they are
documented may relate to obtaining a picture of "what took place" on a
specific occasion, or a series of such occurrences, permitting us to follow a
specific development over time, across geographic locations, or both. For
this we need records of transactions that have taken place. Some of these
transactions do not necessarily directly relate to the occurrences we look
for, but "what took place" may perhaps be logically inferred from some
records in combination.
Oh, for the density of the above statements! Let me ease the pain by giving
Erik Wiedemann, whose doctoral dissertation  was on the development of
jazz in Denmark in the 20s, 30s, and 40s, wanted to document the inspiration
from black musicians, and he also wanted to establish whether there was a
continuum of development from, say, the 1800s. He wanted to know when black
minstrel shows had given concerts in Denmark, when black musicians had
performed on stage or in hotels and restaurants. Newspaper reports from that
period are scarce and unsystematic. Leaflets and other ephemera are just
that: impossible to get a proper grip on, even though we have for centuries
had a rule that every print shop has to deposit one copy of each print with
the authorities (in the shape of the Royal Library). However, Wiedemann went
to the immigration authorities in the form of the "aliens police" [my
translation of Fremmedpolitiet], who had records of visitors, giving precise
dates of entry and exit for the whole period of interest. He had to learn the
professional terms used in that period, but then he had access to all the
information he needed for documenting the movements of foreign musicians. If
they were just passing, you could still see which country they came from and
which they were going to. More or less systematically you could see their
ages. Obviously you could not from this material see what they earned during
their stay, but perhaps some hotel bookkeeping or tax returns have survived -
in another archive.
Most administrative archives are ordered according to the way the generator
ran their business, so in order to be able to use them, you need to now about
The essence is: you will never know now what you might need in the future,
but it is absolutely impossible to store everything, so in a way you decide
by elimination of material what questions it is possible to answer in the
> It's clear that efforts should be made to keep assets, and reasonable
> logic seems to explain why.
> But I challenge the list to bring new information and viewpoints to
> forward the thinking/postings here instead of a simple rehash of "save
> it all". NO ONE has the funds, the storage space, or the ability.
----- here we agree, forced by enormity of the task
> Therefore, I believe we would all benefit from a intellectual well
> rounded discussion about prioritizing assets without drifting too far
> off on tangents.
> When contemplating criteria for assessing an assets "worth" I came up
> with these:
----- these are all good questions
> Historical - Does this represent it's age/time period in a special or
> unique way?
----- possibly this can only be determined by comparison with a huge number
of contemporary assets
> Cultural - Does this speak to/of a cultural group?
----- there is nothing that does not fulfil the criterion of having had some
interest to somebody
> Personal - Am I personally interested in this asset or what it
----- the question is better put as "will this interest die with me"
> Unique - Is this asset a 1 of 1 or 1 (like a painting) of 1,000,000
> (like a commercial pop CD)?
----- "what is its insurance value" could be one way to determine the
> Conditional - Is this an exceptionally fine example or is it impossible
> to playback because of damage?
----- if you have a choice between two assets that were once identical it
would appear simple to select the former only. However, that is not the whole
story. The wear pattern on the latter will tell us a lot about its replay
conditions, i.e. the apparatus avialable; the social class of the proprietor,
> Value - Is this thing worth money for what it is? And how much in a
> reasonable market (i.e. Ebay)
----- Ebay is not a reasonable market, unless you employ people to work it
> Exploitability - Differs from value, in that there may be revenue
> streams generated from the material, if there are minimal
> legalities/barriers for repurposing.
----- this is a truly professional assessment that would have to be
controlled by policy
> (Obviously the list is inverted for corporate Archives, as mine.)
----- ha, there is some truth in that!
> Don Andes
> EMI Music
> P.S. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here so if someone knows of a
> accepted method that libraries/archives are currently using please let
> me know.
----- well, the National Archives in the US had a set of guidelines ca. 1980
that were very perceptive and systematic. I cannot lay my hands on them just
now, but I do know that they were reprinted in a special collection on
Selection, edited by Helen Harrison on behalf of the (then) International
Association for Sound Archives ca. 1983.
However, here is a quote from a recent report:
Building an Electronic Records Archive at the National Archives and Records
Administration: Recommendations for a Long-Term Strategy (2005) pp. 41-42:
[may be found by googling]
"........... several technology trends compel a rethinking of selection,
appraisal, and description in two major areas:
· First, the granularity of appraisal should be larger. The appraisal of
physical records was driven in part by a need to reduce significant storage
costs in an archive. But with ever-declining storage costs, the opposite is
the case with digital information. Investing time in reducing a set of
records by 10 percent or 40 percent or even 60 percent costs more than it
saves, because these decisions require human intervention and professional
judgment and research. Also, records are more interconnected when they are
digital. The information or evidential value of a set of records considered
in isolation may not be obvious, but one set of records may be crucial for
understanding or using another set.
Rather than examining sets of records carefully and marking only a select few
for retention, it may become more expedient and more appropriate to retain
larger "chunks" of records, The committee is not advocating a "save
everything" approach, but a rethinking of selection criteria. For example, it
may be better to preserve entire classes of electronic records (e.g., all of
the records from certain offices, all of the records covering function X in
both the federal and regional offices, and so on) that would not have been
feasible for paper records, even though some records with little permanent
value may be intermingled. NARA appears to be moving in this direction in the
Records Management Redesign initiative, with its emphasis on functional
appraisal, which implicitly is more broadly granular.
Consider a specific example. For the material that will be included in the
U.S. Department of State´s new SMART system, NARA currently has more than
2,000 retention and disposition schedules for series of records with various
retention periods. It might be much more cost-effective simply to keep
everything from this system, or to replace the current fine level of
appraisal and disposition with one that has fewer than a dozen schedules.
· Second, archives should place less emphasis on manual record description of
records and on creation of finding aids and more on automated tools for
improving access. The characteristics of electronic records permit new access
methods that can decrease the burden on archivists to describe records and
create finding aids. Agencies can supply records in a structured format and
attach metadata. Full-content search on the records and associated metadata
can supplement-or even supplant-manually generated finding aids. Finally,
agencies themselves create search and access tools for some of their records.
Such tools might be maintained by the originating agency (perhaps as part of
the sort of agreement to distribute archiving responsibility, as discussed
below) or adapted for use by NARA.
Another way to think about the trade-offs discussed here is that it may be
advisable in many cases to make access for end users (when and if it occurs)
potentially more difficult (by increasing the total volume of records to be
examined and describing records in less detail) in exchange for making ingest
cheap (by reducing the burden on the archivist to select and describe
materials). Of course, as tools such as full-content search improve, the
burden on the end user will be reduced."
I think that the world is waking up, and all is not yet lost.