Prepared by Terry Cook, Summer 2000. Reviewed and Edited by Richard Brown and Judith Roberts-Moore with the Government Records Disposition Program Review Committee: Angèle Alain, Catherine Bailey, Brian Beaven, Gabrielle Blais, Normand Fortier, Yvette Hackett, Andrew Horrall, Candace Loewen, Paul Marsden, Jean-Stéphen Piché , Sheila Powell, Paul Sabourin, Summer 2001
Approved by the National Archivist of Canada
17 October 2001
The first part of the Appraisal Methodology dealt with theory and concepts; this part provides guidelines for archivists to follow in order to conduct individual appraisal projects. The intention of these guidelines is not to provide archivists with a prescriptive appraisal template which must be rigidly adhered to in all cases, but rather to provide the elements of an appropriate appraisal research agenda and the basic methodological steps which can be utilized to make records disposition decisions within LAC context of macro-appraisal.
Applying the Appraisal Methodology
Research is the key element in the application of the appraisal methodology. Archivists should first familiarize themselves with the methodology and criteria contained in the Government-Wide Plan, which is an example of macro-appraisal conceived in its broadest sense. When negotiating the Multi-Year Disposition Plan (MYDP), archivists should conduct a further macro-appraisal of the institution itself to identify the appropriate targets according to their perceived importance from an archival perspective. Archivists should also review past appraisal decisions and precedents for the other functions of the specific institution as well as similar functions undertaken by other government institutions by consulting the information available in the Records Disposition Authority Control System (RDACS) and related internal disposition registry files. In addition, archivists need to be familiar with the government-wide appraisal decisions made in the Multi-Institutional Disposition Authorities (MIDA).
With this background knowledge, archivists can apply the appraisal methodology by:
This research agenda and methodology represents, in effect, the complete records disposition business process normally required to provide archival records preservation recommendations to the Librarian and Archivist for final approval. The Archival Appraisal Report has been designed to both reflect this business process and to serve as an accountability and audit trail in the same transparent way that other business processes of government are conducted. For further guidance on the presentation of the appraisal research and decision-making processes, see Richard Brown (with Yvette Hackett and Marc Cockburn), Drafting an Appraisal Report for the Disposition of Government Records (Government Records Branch, March 2001).
Functional Appraisal Criteria and Forming the Macro-Appraisal Hypothesis
The research pertinent to and the formation of appraisal hypotheses occurs at the stage of appraising an institutional program identified in an MYDP. At this stage, macro-appraisal methodology requires an assessment of the importance and scope of the legislation, mandates, and policies relevant to the institution as a whole. Thereafter, archivists are asked to evaluate its functions, activities and programs as well as their impact on government and the public. The basic objective is to investigate the information universe of the records creator to identify the recorded information in all media: its nature, structure, characteristics, creation-process, and, especially, interrelationships with other information/records creators and users.
This institution level research normally occurs before an effort to assess the archival value of any records is attempted. However, an examination of records is often necessary to obtain full contextual information about the institution. It is often the case that information provided by the institution about its programs and activities is not comprehensive, and archivists must rely upon details obtained from records in order to understand how the institution has organized itself to deliver programs and services, and how its functions and business processes operate. Investigating records to discern contextual information about the records creator is not the same as appraising them for archival value. Part of this creator research also involves the consultation of other published and near-print sources, and interviews with departmental staff, especially at senior policy and working operational levels. Supporting information can also be obtained by research about departmental functions, operational planning frameworks, business process re-engineering studies and projects, business area analysis, computer system design reports and work-flow analysis.
Typically, macro-appraisal methodology moves in a top-down fashion from the operational purpose or broad societal function of the records creator, through various administrative structures and business processes designed to implement that function (and numerous sub-functions), to information systems created to produce and organize records that permit those processes to work, and finally to the records which document all the foregoing as well as the impact of function and structure on the government and public and vice versa. The methodology emphasizes the archival value of the location or site (Office of Primary Interest) of records creation rather than the value of the records at this stage. Its purpose is to assess the capacity of branches/ sectors/ offices to create records of value in a global way rather than dealing directly, one by one, with extensive records in different physical formats.
Upon completion of the macro-appraisal, the archivist forms a set of hypotheses regarding the appraisal work lying ahead. The archivist should consider all or some of the following functional criteria where these have not already been discerned at the stage of MYDP research and planning, or in MIDA work:
The variances outlined above may come from individuals, businesses, lobby groups, political groups, other levels of government and so forth. But, it is important to identify other narratives existing within the records so that archivists may leave for posterity competing "truths" about the past for researchers to weigh rather than just preserving the dominant or "winning" voices.
Functional analysis is a practical means to gauge the complexity, nature, and impact of the targeted function on the operations of government, on other functions, and on Canadian society. In formulating the appraisal hypothesis, the archivist links the functional context to structure (the Office of Primary Interest) in order to establish targets for documentation and identify entities which have control over records and the authority to dispose of them. The result of this functional analysis also guides the order in which the remaining appraisal takes place. Obviously the records of functions (sub-functions, programs, activities) judged to be more important should be investigated first since that often allows records of subsidiary functions to be eliminated entirely or be acquired on a much reduced scale.
Testing the Macro-Appraisal Hypothesis
Once the appraisal hypothesis is formulated, the actual appraisal of the records can begin. The hypothesis is tested, and either modified or confirmed. This stage should proceed as comprehensively as possible. Ideally, the archivist examines all records in all media at the same time in a logical order; however, it is recognized that this is not always possible in every instance.
If appraising records in an institution for the first time, it is logical for the archivist to start with a review of the policy records, then the operational records and finally regional or field office records. If policy and other operational records have already been the object of a previous appraisal, the archivist should be familiar with the decisions and reasons behind them before proceeding to the present object of appraisal.
Testing the hypothesis(es) typically requires the investigation of actual records by spot-checking different categories. Archivists cannot possibly examine all the records but they can review examples, especially for those categories that raise questions about their value as archival documents. The archivist will normally be searching for variance in the actual records from the knowledge gained through macro-appraisal research. The greater the importance of the function, the more likely the archivist will preserve records documenting that functional variance.
To accomplish a comprehensive records review, the appraisal methodology recommends the following nine phases. Ideally the archivist will proceed from one phase to another to avoid duplication of research and appraisal work. However, it is recognized that some phases may occur concurrently, especially if investigation uncovers new information on the function or the way information is recorded. Of course, depending upon extant knowledge and project complexity, it may be not necessary to undertake every step. Unless otherwise specified, the following phases apply in the first instance to headquarters only.
Documenting the Functional Program
Documenting the Functional Program
Headquarters and Regional Records
Phases 1 to 7 usually occur at headquarters before select regional and field offices are visited. Except for specialized or unique regional activity, few of these regional records are retained unless they document significant activity or dimensions of Canadian society not available at headquarters or indicate significant differences from the program. Thus, the headquarters appraisal should be completed, or nearly so, before any regional work is undertaken, unless the regional entity is an Office of Primary Interest for particular functions.
Obviously, archivists cannot visit all regional and field offices for a large sector with an extensive functional network across the country. It is recommended that if the functional analysis indicates that regional and/or field offices may create records having archival value, one "typical" regional office and perhaps two field offices should be visited.
Visual and Sound Media
Visual and sound media should first be appraised within the functional context outlined in this Appraisal Methodology. Photographs, films or maps, for example, are not just visual subject content of a person, place, or event; they are part of government functions and programs. They support the conduct of government business. For some functions, such as communicating government programs to the public, audio-visual media may well be the most succinct reflection of the function or activity, and thus the best archival record to provide succinct and sufficient evidence of a function. As noted, appraisal criteria for visual and sound media are being developed to complement this Appraisal Methodology. When this work is complete, media considerations can be better integrated into the appraisal methodology for government records.
General Appraisal Criteria
After completing the process outlined in this document, the archivist considers the following factors at the "record" (usually series) level. These micro-appraisal factors are those traditionally enunciated in the archival appraisal literature:
Additional Appraisal Considerations
In the course of conducting the appraisal methodology outlined above, archivists may encounter records that do not fit the definitions or the methodology for determining archival value as described in this document. They do not reflect how government functions in a significant way, and they may not be from an Office of Primary Interest, but rather from an Office of Collateral Interest or in some research or special reference unit. These records may even be at the file or item or small collection level.
Nevertheless, as a qualification (documented in the Archival Appraisal Report) to the results of the macro-appraisal approach, such records may be considered to have archival value and thus acquired. A very strong argument must be made in their favour, and the "General Appraisal Criteria" of the previous section, for informational value in particular, must be strictly and convincingly applied.
Retention of Records for Legal Requirements
If the Government of Canada has formal legal requirements to keep records on an on-going or permanent basis, LAC may acquire the records on behalf of government since it has the environmentally controlled storage facilities and preservation expertise even if such records do not fall within the macro-appraisal determination of archival value. Certain land records, such as property leases in national parks or First Nations reserves, are obvious examples (if they are not already captured in the "essential records category"). Before considering desegregated case files, archivists should look for summaries, extracts, and policy files. For example, the National Capital Commission once expropriated land from the front yards of 1000 homeowners to widen a road. This action generated over 100 metres of case files, but also one thick aggregated file which summarized each homeowner's situation and compensation paid. Even if the agency insisted on long-term legal retention of documentation, Library and Archives Canada would normally acquire only the aggregated file, not all the case records. "Sufficient evidence" and not all possible evidence should always be the watchword.
Archivists must stringently apply the "General Appraisal Criteria" to determine if a legal requirement exists for the retention of records by LAC. Records may be used in court someday (or already have been) because the government may be sued over issues documented in the records. It may be good business practice to retain these records for potential legal proceedings; however, this is not the same as a requirement embedded in legislation for retention by Library and Archives Canada. These circumstances relate to records retention periods and to the accountabilities of government institutions within the context of their business needs analysis. Drug testing and drug approval case files, or agricultural pesticide and fertilizer research records, are examples of instances where the records do not have archival value but may have long-term business or other values to government institutions. The evidential value of records (which all records have to some degree) for the purposes of providing archival documentation of government business is not the same as legal evidence required in court proceedings. A legal requirement for permanent retention, as opposed to an archival requirement, means the record has a particular legal status under a federal statute and must be retained indefinitely.
Retention of Records of Intrinsic Value
A tiny fraction of government records have aesthetic or high monetary value, although their information content is duplicated elsewhere, or relatively unimportant. Criteria for such intrinsic values need to be more clearly articulated. Government records appraised as having intrinsic value should be declared archival and retained by Library and Archives Canada. Original Indian Treaties, sealed proclamations or hand-painted scrolls are textual examples.
Retention of Records for Informational Value
This is the most difficult qualification of macro-appraisal, since all records by definition have some informational value to someone, and every record has some potential research value to some discipline or interest group or individual, now or in the future. In the context of the government records disposition program, informational value is very narrowly defined. It is ascribed to records containing information on people, events, places, ideas, or social phenomena. The records must be created, collected or maintained exclusively by the federal government and, they must have national significance. Records of national significance substantially enrich our understanding about Canada's history, society, culture, ideas, and people at the level of nation-wide prominence or major national activity.
Sometimes the Government of Canada is in a position to create, collect or maintain a body of unique records containing rich information not available elsewhere. Examples might be shipwreck registers, patents of inventions, hydrographic charts, wildlife observational data, Canadian Olympic athletes biographical files, etc. Certain collections of ephemera may also qualify. The Archival Appraisal Report must convincingly demonstrate that the information meets the definition of national significance. In addition, the "General Appraisal Criteria" must be applied. Using these criteria, the archivist justifies the preservation of the records for their informational value, rather than as sufficient evidence to document government's business functions.
Documenting Appraisal Conclusions and the Records Preservation Context
Throughout the research and analysis outlined in the Appraisal Methodology above, it is important for archivists to consider their recommendations within the complete context of the records selection and records preservation process, including previous appraisal decisions and actual transfers of records to Library and Archives Canada by government institutions. Links should also be established between appraisal rationale and the finding aids created by LAC to provide access to archival records resulting from the application of records disposition authorities. Archival appraisal and preservation decisions form an essential part of the audit trail which informs the Canadian public about the surviving archival record of government, specifically:
Consequently, as final methodological step, archivists provide a full profile of the appraisal and records preservation context to support their recommendations for the approval of the Librarian and Archivist. Normally this profile, including linkages to other contextual information maintained by Library and Archives Canada is described in the Archival Appraisal Report. The companion document, Drafting an Archival Appraisal Report for the Disposition of Government Records, provides guidelines for writing this report.
Selected Bibliography (Publications Only)
Appraisal Case Studies Published by Program Staff:
Catherine Bailey, "From the Top Down: The Practice of Macro-Appraisal," Archivaria 43 (Spring 1997), pp. 89-128.
Brian P. N. Beaven, "Macro-Appraisal: From Theory to Practice," Archivaria 48 (Fall 1999), pp. 154-198.
Jim Burant, "Ephemera, Archives, and Another View of History," Archivaria 40 (Fall 1995), pp. 189-198.
Eldon Frost, "A Weak Link in the Chain: Records Scheduling as a Source of Archival Acquisition," Archivaria 33 (Winter 1991-92).
Candace Loewen, "From Human Neglect to Planetary Survival: New Approaches to the Appraisal of Environmental Records," Archivaria 33 (Winter 1991-92), pp. 87-103.
Dan Moore, "Too Many Records, Too Little Time, Too Few Resources: The Need for a Researched Based Planned Approach to the Acquisition of Government Records," La mission de l'archiviste dans la société, GIRA (groupe interdisciplinaire de recherche en archivistique), (Montréal, 1994).
Jean-Stéphen Piché and Sheila Powell, "Counting Archives In: The Appraisal of the 1991 Census of Canada," Archivaria 45 (Spring 1998), pp. 27-43.
Jean-Stéphen Piché,"Macro-Appraisal and Duplication of Information: Federal Real Property Management Records," Archivaria 39 (Spring 1995), pp. 39-50.
Sheila Powell, "Archival Reappraisal: The Immigration Case Files," Archivaria 33 (Winter 1991-92), pp. 104-116.
Ellen Scheinberg, "Case File Theory: Does It Work in Practice?," Archivaria 38 (Fall 1994), pp. 45-60.
Bruce Wilson, "Systematic Appraisal of the Records of the Government of Canada at the National Archives of Canada," Archivaria 38 (Fall 1994), pp. 218-231.