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Audits and Evaluations

Audit of the Deaccessioning of Private Collections

Process

Criteria: The organization has a formal and rigorous approach to managing the deaccessioning of private collections.

Although there are limited documented policies and procedures, deaccessioning activities are governed by a set of established criteria and a formal approval process.

Our assessment of the adequacy of the deaccessioning process was based on the expectation that the following elements would be in place:
- Deaccessioning policies and procedures are in place, well documented and effective;
- There are clear criteria supporting deaccessioning decisions;
- Delegation authorities are in place for a rigorous approval process.

The deaccessioning process is an integral part of the acquisition process and to understand the former, one must understand the latter. Acquisition is divided into two phases:

- Registration
Once the Director General, SCEB authorizes an Acquisition Proposal, the collection is physically acquired and transferred to LAC premises. The collection is then entered by the Record Control Officer (RCO) into the MIKAN registry and containers are identified with a bar code system to enable tracking and easy retrieval of archival material. At this point in time, the content and value of the collection are not fully known.

- Acquisition
This phase can best be described as the appraisal and negotiation phase. Following transfer to LAC premises, the archivist conducts a physical review and appraisal of the collection to determine if it meets the LAC acquisition and preservation criteria. If the collection or some part of it does not meet the criteria, a deaccessioning action is taken. The proposed action, destruction, return to donor, or transfer, is based on the terms and conditions that have been agreed to with the donor during negotiations.

At any point in time during these two phases, a Deed of Gift may be signed. The Deed of Gift is a legal and binding contract between the Crown and the donor and it formalizes the acquisition of the collection by LAC. It is usually accompanied by an Annex describing the details of the collection. Following acquisition and/or deaccessioning actions, the final step is to update the description of the collection in the MIKAN database in accordance with the Rules for Archival Description (RAD).

The LAC Archival Collection Management Reference Manual, last updated in 2008, provides selection criteria for acquisition of archival records. Decision makers are required to consider such criteria as: the creator (individual or corporate), the medium, the uniqueness or originality of the content, the value for researchers and the artistic or aesthetic value, to name only a few. In addition to those guidelines, archival norms as recommended by the Association of Canadian Archivists and the professional judgment of archivists have guided the decision-making and documentary process. Until very recently, the portfolio model prevailed at LAC whereby one or more archivists were responsible for a collection and, therefore, made the decisions relative to acquisition and deaccessioning. This model created areas of special expertise where challenge was limited. In this environment, management considered that there was no need to issue a detailed policy for the deaccessioning of private collections.

In spite of the lack of formal policy, there are controls in place to ensure that the deaccessioning transactions are processed in an effective and timely manner. The process was tightened during the last year to provide better control. Follow-up systems were put in place to ensure tracking and timely processing of transactions. In addition, the Recommendation for Disposition form was improved to include an Annex describing in greater details the collection to be disposed of and copies of the disposal documentation was required as final proof of disposal. Finally, summary procedures and service standards were developed by the two branches involved in the process and they were promulgated.

The limited policies and informal procedures could result in an uneven application of deaccessioning measures and increase the risk of errors.

Following their appraisal, archivists make recommendations for disposal of private collection items. There are three different forms used to initiate such an action. The first form is the most commonly used for archived material meeting one of the following deaccessioning criteria:

  • Material not meeting acquisition criteria1;
  • Duplicate material not needed;
  • A condition to return to donor as agreed at acquisition;
  • An obsolete or unsafe format.

If one or more of the above mentioned criteria are met, the archivist completes the Recommendation for Disposition of Records form, which is authorized by the Director General, SCEB.

The second form, which must be approved by the Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada, is used for deaccessioning actions that do not meet the criteria required for the first form. One such situation would be the transfer of archived material to another memory institution. The third form, which is authorized by the supervisor of the recommending archivist, is used for collections that are in the registry but that remain unprocessed.

The use of the proper form is monitored by the SCEB Standard Officer as evidence in a case where the Officer identified the use of the wrong form and requested that the archivist use the proper form. All requests are then forwarded to the Inventory Control and Accommodation Section, under Analogue Preservation, for processing.

The test revealed that the deaccessioning process in place at the time of audit was followed in all cases and proper authorization was obtained. In our opinion, there are clear criteria guiding the deaccessioning process.

The delegation to the Director General, SCEB for authorizing disposition under the above-mentioned criteria expired on March 31, 2011. This has created delays and, at the time of audit reporting, only nine deaccessioning transactions had been processed since April 1, 2011, all authorized by the Deputy Head and Librarian and Archivist of Canada or the responsible supervisor.

It is a well-known fact that a significant backlog of private collections has accumulated in the LAC vaults and has been doing so for several years. The MIKAN registry reports that 5,330 archival records received at LAC since 1998 remain unprocessed. This represents 99,427 containers. One impact is inefficient use of space and resources. While there may be legitimate factors and reasons to justify the delay in some cases, this situation points to the lack of a strategic and systematic approach to processing private collections for acquisition and deaccessioning.

The excess inventory issue has been recognized by management and the MII 4 includes a project to clear this backlog on a priority basis. There is a requirement for developing a formal policy that will define criteria for prioritizing the processing of the private collections and establishing deaccessioning procedures with built-in timelines. In addition, proper delegation should be in place to ensure that deaccessioning is conducted effectively and on a timely basis.

Recommendations:

2. Review the effectiveness of the current delegation of authority process for deaccessioning actions.

Management response:

LAC's Acquisition Sector agrees with this recommendation. In the context of an unprecedented emphasis on the review of existing holdings, delegation will be reviewed in coordination with Holding Management Sector to ensure consistency in delegation, but also appropriate overview until this relatively new process matures, and lessons learned be integrated into the delegation instrument.

1 Based on the Archival Collection Management Reference Manual

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