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Comma 2002.


Proceedings of the XXXVth International Conference of the Round Table on Archives Reykjavik, Iceland, 10-13 October 2001

Actes de la XXXVe Confrence internationale de la Table ronde des Archives Reykjavik, Islande, 10-13 octobre 2001

Comma, 2002 - 1/2 Duncan Simpson and Susan Graham


Appraisal and Selection of Records: A New Approach

This paper will describe the approach of the Public Record Office, the UK national archive, to determining which government records merit permanent preservation. This approach has changed radically over the past few years, moving from a non-interventionist approach and beginning to take a much more active part in the selection process. The paper begins by describing the public records system of the UK government and its traditional approach to appraisal. It analyses what we now see as the weaknesses in that approach, and describes our new approach and its implementation.

The UK public records system

The Public Record Office (PRO) operates within a framework established by the Public Records Act 1958. Our remit covers the public records of the UK government, England and, for the time being, Wales. There are separate statutory provisions for official records in Scotland and Northern Ireland, each of which has its own record office. Currently there is not a Welsh Record Office, but the Government of Wales Act 1998 makes possible its future establishment by the National Assembly for Wales. The Public Records Act defines a public record as records conveying information by any means whatsoever,1 and covers the records of central government, the law courts and a number of other government bodies. It does not apply to the records of local or regional government. The Public Records Act 1958 sets out the responsibilities of the PRO, government departments and places of deposit in relation to public records. Although, according to the Act, departments are responsible for the safe-keeping and selection of their own records, they are required to do this under the guidance, supervision and co-ordination of the PRO. In carrying out this responsibility, the PRO supervises over 250 public record bodies, which together hold in excess of 1400 linear kilometres of records at a combined annual storage cost of over 35 million.2 We take into the archives fewer than 5% of the records created by government. This amounts now to about 2km per year and we have already in store 168 km. An additional 42 km of public records are held in 240 other archives throughout the country, known as places of deposit. We inspect and monitor these local archives, though we do not give them any funding, or have any management control over them. The PROs new approach to appraisal rests on a re-structuring of the PROs Records Management Department, which we carried out in 1998. We re-defined the departments strategic objectives and all the roles and functions of the staff within it. This enabled us to begin to deal with the introduction of electronic records management systems into government, and the implications this brings for the processes of appraisal, selection and, eventually, preservation or disposal.

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Public Records Act 1958, s 10(1) Records Storage Management, Cabinet Office / PRO. February 1997

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Changing approach to appraisal

In the UK, the approach to the selection of records for permanent preservation in the archives has evolved throughout the twentieth century. Recent practice for the last 40 years or so has been dominated by the views of Sir Hilary Jenkinson, who was Deputy Keeper of the Public Records from 1947 to 1954 and more recently by those of Theodore Schellenberg. In The Principles of Archive Administration3 Sir Hilary Jenkinson stressed the importance of preserving the evidential and impartial nature of archives. In Jenkinsons view, administrators should carry out the selection of records for permanent preservation considering administrative need alone. The intervention of archivists in this process would taint the evidential value of the record by applying an external set of values to the records. In Jenkinsons view, research values should be excluded from selection decisions, both to avoid destroying the evidential value of the records and also to protect them from current trends and fads which might skew the historical record. In the middle of the twentieth century, Theodore Schellenberg of the US National Archives and Records Administration wrote that archives should be selected, not only for their value as evidence, but also for their informational content4. He set out a taxonomy of primary and secondary records values. Primary values were the value of the records to the organization itself while secondary values were the research values of the records, which could be further subdivided into informational or evidential values. Schellenberg separated the value of the records to the creating organization and their value for research purposes. While administrators were best placed to assess primary values, he argued that archivists should assess the secondary values. The views of Schellenberg and Jenkinson are both represented in the findings of the 1954 Grigg Committee, whose report underpins the Public Records Act of 19585. The Grigg system has provided the basis of the procedures for the selection of records for permanent preservation in the UK national archive from the end of the 1950s. Based on the records life cycle, the system consists of a two-stage review process relying on an individual examination of records. First review, conducted some 5-7 years after creation, considers administrative need. Records which survive this review are examined 25 years after creation to establish if they have sufficient value to merit permanent preservation. Traditional approaches such as this have recently come under question, not only in the UK but throughout the world. A number of reasons underlie this: The file-by-file appraisal process works from the bottom up, looking closely and in great detail at records. It is difficult to operate this system alongside any real strategic overview of the appraisal activity. It is difficult to set selection priorities, and especially difficult to do so across or between different organisations or departments. A system based on an individual examination of records is also increasingly unsuitable for dealing with the large volume of records created since the 1970s as photocopiers, word processors and computers became part of everyday office life. In one government department, the volume of records due for review doubled over the period 1970-1974. Over the past few years, the universal move to creating electronic records has given huge impetus to the need to review our approach to the appraisal and selection of records. The UK government has set the target that by 2004 all new public records must be created and managed electronically. Electronic records cannot be kept for twenty-five years before considering whether or not they should be selected for permanent
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Sir Hilary Jenkinson (1922) A Manual of Archive Administration, 2nd ed pub 1965 T R Schellenberg (1956) Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques 1954, Report of the Committee fn Departmental Records (Grigg Committee) Cmd 9163 HMSO

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preservation. A physical computer disk or tape can survive for twenty-five years, but it is extremely unlikely that the information it contains will be accessible at the end of the period. The technology itself demands that we make selection decisions at the earliest possible stage. Ideally this should happen at the time of creation or even before, when the system for managing and storing the records is first set up. The traditional model does not deal effectively with an increasing requirement for accountability and transparency in government. It does not provide mechanisms for systematically recording the basis on which appraisal decisions were taken and making it available to the public. Finally, the values set out in our traditional approach reflected the priorities of the 1950s. Great emphasis was placed on the need to document the structures and functions of the creating organizations and there was a tendency to select records showing the development of government policy without selecting those records which showed how it was implemented in practice. By the 1990s new research interests, techniques and disciplines had arisen. It was important to ensure that the selection priorities being pursued in the 1990s accommodated this research. These weaknesses were not only characteristics of the UK approach to appraisal. Across the world national archives have been querying their approach to the selection of records for permanent preservation, and a range of international responses have developed, including the Canadian macroappraisal approach and the Australian functional approach which includes an element of stakeholder analysis. The PROs new approach to the selection of records for permanent preservation rests on the principles of transparency and partnership. In the modern government environment it is imperative that the decision-making processes of the state are transparent to its customers. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 has reinforced this requirement. All our selection policy documents are the subject of public consultation; all are available to the public and all are on the PRO website. We accept comment even after they have been finalised and we have promised to review them regularly. Our premise is that we will always document clearly what we do and why, so that our customers and successors will be able to track our decisions and understand them. Furthermore, the PRO seeks to develop its approach to selection in partnership with government departments, fellow professionals and the public. For many years the Office has had a good relationship with government departments. Departmental staff have valuable knowledge and expertise and the PRO is eager to develop further its relationship with government departments. At the same time we are seeking to extend our relationship with fellow professionals, in the international and national archive community. We also aim to include our users in the development of our selection priorities both the academic community and the genealogical community which now makes up most of our regular users. The PRO staff involved in the selection of records for permanent preservation are regular participants in a programme of seminars on contemporary British history, at which academics are invited to speak about particular aspects of contemporary British history and to describe which areas they consider are likely to be of especial interest to posterity. In addition, we are developing the Offices links with representative user groups, such as the Royal Historical Society and the genealogical community. In common with other national archives, the PRO has adopted a top-down approach to the identification of records for permanent preservation. Rather than following a purely functional approach, the Offices approach involves identifying those themes which are priorities for permanent preservation. It then considers the functions and record-keeping structures of the organizations concerned to establish where the records supporting these themes can be found. For existing records the approach is based on provenance and content rather than function our aim is to identify the lead records for a particular area of interest. The analysis is verified by an examination of the individual records concerned.

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Framework of selection criteria

In 1997 the PRO began a systematic review of our selection criteria with the aim of publishing a new policy and framework for the selection of records for permanent preservation. The PROs acquisition policy was developed by undertaking research on approaches to appraisal and by studying best practice in other national archives. It was the subject of a substantial consultation exercise. Copies of the draft policy were sent for comment to every history teacher at a British university, to learned societies, to local archives, to genealogical societies and to grant-giving bodies. The draft was placed on the PRO website and was the subject of a number of consultation seminars at the PRO and at universities. Responses showed that 97% were supportive of the overall thrust of the policy, which was amended in the light of comments received. The policy sets out the overriding objectives governing the PROs selection work: Our objectives are to record the principal policies and actions of the UK central government and to document the states interactions with its citizens and with the physical environment. In doing so, we will seek to provide a research resource for our generation and for future generations6. It identifies eight themes in relation to which records will be selected, grouped under two headings: Policy and administrative processes of the state, covering the following themes: formulation of policy and the management of public resources; management of the economy; external relations and defence policy; administration of justice and the maintenance of security; formulation and delivery of social policies; cultural policy. Interaction of the state with its citizens, which covers the social and demographic condition of the UK, as documented by the states dealings with individuals, communities and organisations outside its own formal boundaries; and the impact of the state on the physical environment. In the policy we are open about the resource pressures on us, and, in particular, that we have to limit the amount we take in each year and that the main reason for this limitation is lack of resources. For the first time, the policy made the cost of selection and storage an explicit element in selection decisions. The policy also made a commitment to a cycle of review. The first review is due in 2002/03 and thereafter the policy will be reviewed at least every 10 years. Consultation with the research community and with other interested parties will be an integral part of this review. Having set out the criteria for the selection of records for permanent preservation in the PRO, we then developed a disposition policy, which sets out the circumstances in which public records may be transferred to other archives outside the PRO. These may be regional or local archives, or they may be national organisations such as for example the national museums or libraries. This policy was also the subject of extensive and wide-ranging consultation with users, fellow archive professionals and government departments. The acquisition and disposition policies are implemented through operational selection policies (OSPs). These are more detailed policies, applying the criteria set out in the acquisition and disposition policies to particular departments or categories of records.

PRO, Acquisition Policy Statement

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The PRO and relevant government departments develop OSPs jointly, with the PRO preparing the initial draft. Consultation with users forms an essential part of the process, largely with academics, researchers and special interest groups relevant to the subject of the OSP. So far ten OSPs have been produced, covering such subjects as Fiscal Policy, the Security Service, Nuclear Weapons Policy, the Preservation and Use of the Countryside for Recreational Purposes. This is an ongoing programme with six more to be produced by the end of March 2002. These will include UK diplomatic relations, the budget process and the central direction of policies and programmes. Just as important is the development of a framework of guidance for records managers working within government departments through the provision of standards and toolkits, including one on sampling techniques for the selection of case records. The relationship between the PROs records management staff and those in each department has to be effective and close if this new approach to selection and appraisal is to work properly. This is part of the partnership element I mentioned earlier.

Next steps
The acquisition and disposition policies are high-level statements, while OSPs are detailed statements of selection criteria. We needed to develop a sense for how the OSPs would work in practice and how they could be of most use in the selection process. Now that we have real, practical experience in this area, we will define an overall framework for the Operational Selection Policy Programme. This will set out how each Operational Selection Policy relates to all the others as well as how they relate to the selection themes. The work will be completed this year. We have also now started to develop in detail our new appraisal methodologies to identify the records we wish to keep. The Grigg method, based on a fileby-file approach, is no longer practicable, especially for electronic records. The new, more flexible approach we are looking for is largely untested and unknown territory. There is a risk in abandoning such a well-established system as Grigg-based method but we have no choice. We will, of course, consult with our government colleagues and clients, and also with other users, as this work develops. Over time this new work will need to be tested and refined. We will keep the whole system under regular review, while it grows and extends. Underpinning this new approach are training and communications - not only for public records bodies, but also with our user communities and our professional colleagues, so that we can share approaches and best practice and promote debate with users and fellow professionals. For further information on the implementation of the PROs new approach to the selection of records for permanent preservation, please see our website: http://www

Duncan Simpson and Susan Graham

Comma, 2002 - 1/2 Duncan Simpson and Susan Graham Bibliography Other international approaches to appraisal include:


Canada: Terry Cook, Towards a new theory of archival appraisal in Barbara Craig (ed) The Canadian Archival Imagination: Essays in Honour of Hugh Taylor pp 38-70 Ottawa, 1992 Holland: R C Hol & A G de Vries, PIVOT Down Under: A Report, Archives and Manuscripts vol 26 May 1998 pp 78-102 Australia :