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Criteria: An effective governance structure is established for the deaccessioning of private collections and the function is linked to acquisition and preservation strategies.
Several elements of the governance structure require improvement to become compliant with the Treasury Board Management Accountability Framework.
Our assessment of the governance structure was based on the expectation that the following elements would be in place:
- Clearly defined and well-understood roles and responsibilities;
- Strategic direction in line with organizational priorities;
- Clearly stated objectives and work plans supporting the strategic direction;
- Regular reporting and monitoring on deaccessioning achievements;
- Clear linkage between acquisition and deaccessioning.
The authority for disposal of private collections is embedded in Section 9 of the Library and Archives of Canada Act. It reads as follows: "The Librarian and Archivist may dispose of any publication and record under his or her control, including by destruction, if he or she considers that it is no longer necessary to retain it. Any such disposition is subject to the terms and conditions under which the publication or record has been acquired or obtained." Currently, there are two branches sharing the responsibility for deaccessioning. Based on their appraisal of a collection, the SCEB archivists make the decision relative to deaccessioning the collection or part of it. This decision is forwarded to the Analogue Preservation staff members who are responsible for executing the decision. Based on the interviews conducted with staff of both organizations, the roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and well understood and a climate of collaboration exists between the two organizations.
The mandate relative to deaccessioning is not currently supported by a clear strategic approach. Interviews conducted with program managers have confirmed that there is no overall strategic direction defining a cohesive and structured approach for the deaccessioning function and activities. Deaccessioning is not considered to be a program as such but a by-product of the acquisition process. Managers have confirmed that acquisitions are guided by a document approved by the LAC Management Board in 2005 entitled Collection Development Framework. This document provides the strategic direction and framework guiding the collection development for the period 2005-2010. It is supported by another document entitled Acquisition Orientation 2006-2010. Both are silent on the approach and requirements for the disposition of private collections.
The primary mandate of archival institutions has historically been to acquire and preserve material of heritage value. The absence of a strategic direction for deaccessioning activities is a result of this legacy that is adverse to the disposal of archival material. Research of national and international practices on the deaccessioning of archival collections conducted by the LAC Strategic Research Branch has revealed that LAC is no different than most institutions in this domain. While most national archival institutions are enabled under their legislation to dispose of archival material, the parameters under which this is accomplished are largely open to interpretation and most institutions have not seen fit to elaborate strategies and/or policies to support this legislated mandate. The current modernization climate may present a unique opportunity for LAC to become the leader in deaccessioning policy and guidance.
In the absence of a deaccessioning strategy, there is a risk that the space and resources required to manage private collections are not used in the most efficient and effective manner.
There are no specific objectives and work plans related to the deaccessioning function. The work plans currently in place mostly cover activities related to collection appraisals and acquisitions. However, the 2011-2012 work plan for the SCEB concentrates on the MIIs and the relevant projects under the Branch's responsibility. In addition to the Branch's work plan, objectives and work plans are developed for each archivist and supervisor. Quarterly reports are prepared for reporting progress on ongoing and special projects. One of the major projects under way in the Political Archives section is the Excess Inventory Reduction Project aimed at clearing a large portion of the unprocessed private collections accumulated in the registry. This MII 4 project will, in fact, create a significant increase in deaccessioning activities until its completion. A separate Progress Report was prepared on the achievements of this project to date.
With the lack of specific objectives and work plans for deaccessioning, there is no assurance that collections are processed in the most efficient manner and according to set priorities.
The absence of specific objectives and work plans for deaccessioning impacts the ability to report and monitor activities. Currently, reporting for deaccessioning is limited to an annual report forwarded to the Deputy Head. This report provides the reason for disposal, the means of disposal and the date of the decision. In addition, managers indicated that performance measurement is limited and is not always taken into consideration in the decision-making process for the deaccessioning function. The high-level performance indicators developed for the organization's new Program Activity Architecture (PAA) in early 2011 provides a good starting point to refine indicators for each sector of activity and initiate the capture of valid and reliable data. Given the innovation initiatives under way, the timing may be ideal to establish a baseline from which to assess future performance. Limited information on program and key activity achievements negatively impacts the ability of managers to make well-informed decisions.
The function of deaccessioning is closely linked to that of acquisition and preservation and management has already identified some of the governance weaknesses raised above as part of its modernization challenges. The MII 2 initiative, Whole of Society Model to Appraise and Acquire Documentary Heritage, will revisit the need and appropriateness of a systematic holistic appraisal of archived materials and is expected to provide a strategic direction for acquisition in line with a total societal approach. MII 4, Review the Relevance of LAC Holdings, includes the reappraisal of the current collection to ensure its relevancy with the current mandate and conditions. It is expected that these initiatives will have a direct impact on deaccessioning activities by tightening the criteria for acquisition and disposing of excess inventory. Therefore, it is our opinion that a direct link between acquisition and deaccessioning exists.
LAC's Acquisition Sector agrees with this recommendation: the Whole of Society Methodology currently under development will provide the framework for the integration of this approach. The deaccessioning function can be integrated into the acquisition function cluster. This will provide the appropriate framework to set a direction, and will trigger the development of policies, procedures, objectives and risk identification.
It is worth noting that it is LAC's intention to intervene with creators "up-stream" in the process, i.e. to have potential collection material identified and assessed as much as possible before its arrival on LAC's premises. Success in this approach will translate into a smaller percentage of material deaccessioned at the point of acquisition, i.e. unwanted material will be identified prior to receiving. This comment does not pertain to the retrospective review of existing holding (MII 4).
It should be reiterated also that a strategic, comprehensive approach to reappraisal and deaccessioning is the objective of MII 4. Under this Modernization initiative, LAC will design and implement such an approach by April 1, 2014.