Appraisal policies in SCUA

The following guidelines apply to “appraisal,” the process by which archivists decide which materials to retain as part of the permanent collection and which not. Since every archival or manuscript collection has unique attributes, the guidelines are not hard and fast rules, but rather points for consideration.

SCUA archivists apply their experience and professional judgment when making decisions about each collection on its own merits. In general, these guidelines are applied to groups of materials, rather than individual items, and in most cases we prefer to err on the side of caution, opting for retention when there is any doubt, not disposal. In appraising a collection, we emphasize efficiency and speed in carrying out the work, as opposed to a thorough vetting of every item.

Factors tending toward permanent retention of material

  • Research potential: do these materials have a significant historical or cultural value and will future researchers likely have an interest in them?
  • Documentary value: does this material provide useful documentation of an event, person, process, idea, or place?
  • Depth of documentation: do these materials as a whole provide a rich understanding of a subject?
  • Context of the whole: Are these materials part of a coherent whole within the collection that should be retained intact?
  • Uniqueness or rarity: are these materials unique or sufficiently rare or are they duplicated elsewhere, perhaps in other form? Do these materials provide a unique or uniquely valuable perspective?
  • Associational value: are these materials associated with someone else in SCUA’s collections or with some well-known figure who we may wish to document?
  • Monetary value: are these materials valuable in a monetary sense?
  • Display or promotional value: would these materials be useful in an exhibit (either in house or online) or in informational material we produce?

Highly desired types of material

  • Unpublished material: Our goal is to document not just what happened, but how things happened, and we are particularly interested in materials that reveal behind-the-scenes activities and personal perspectives. While published materials are valued, we are most interested in unpublished material, such as correspondence, diaries and journals, memoranda, notes, lectures and speeches, drafts, and unpublished writings. In many cases, these materials reflect a personal perspective on events that will unavailable in any other form.
  • Minutes of meetings, agendas: minutes of meetings, agendas, and annual reports are highly valuable for documenting an organization’s activity, and when paired with the correspondence of officers and internal memoranda and other communications, they may provide a particularly well-rounded view.
  • Audiovisual materials: SCUA places a high emphasis on visual documentation and actively seeks photographs, motion pictures and videos, drawings, and sound recordings for their cultural, aesthetic, and historical value.

Types of materials less likely to be retained

  • Detailed financial records are generally not retained because of their often voluminous nature, their low research potential, and, in some cases, their exposure of potentially sensitive or personal information.
    • Receipts, invoices, legal financial filings, and such are rarely retained, however annual reports and summary statements may be valuable.
  • Published materials are typically closely scrutinized. Many modern (post-1900) books, periodicals, sound recordings, and movies are “readily available,” either through a circulating library or online, and are therefore not retained because they are seldom consulted by researchers in SCUA.
    • SCUA emphasizes retention only of those items that are not readily available in their specific form (e.g. edition), that are so integral to the content and context of the collection that they should not be disposed; that have unique association with key people or that have annotations or marginalia of value; or that have high cultural or monetary value.
    • In most cases, we retain a single copy of each publication by the creator of a collection.
    • News clippings are seldom retained, particularly if the source is unidentified.
    • Offprints, reprints, and photocopies of articles are seldom retained unless they are by the
  • Personnel records: Due to the potential for exposing personal data or other sensitive information, SCUA typically does not retain personnel records of any sort.
  • Medical records: Formal medical records are generally not retained. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) limits our ability to make most classes of medical records publicly available, but we generally choose not to retain materials that fall outside of HIPAA due to the likelihood of revealing personal information and to generally low research value.
    • Collections relating to the history of medicine or other fields in which health and medical care are of central concern.
    • Medical records 75 years old and older are typically retained.
    • A person wishing to include their own medical records in their collection may do so.
  • Student records: Most student records cannot be made public under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA), and SCUA typically does not accept student records unless mandated by State records keeping requirements
    • Student papers, class records, or other instructional records that include grades or evaluations are not accepted.
    • Recommendations for students (e.g. for application to graduate school or employment) are not accepted if they were written under an expectation of confidentiality.
    • A person wishing to include their own student records in their collection may do so.
  • Research data: although data sets may be retained due to their importance to a collection, SCUA archivists will give due consideration to whether the archive is the appropriate place to preserve the information and whether we have the technology and skills to make the data available in the long term.
  • Duplicate and redundant materials: In most cases, SCUA’s archivists will retain only a single copy of each item, however they may choose to retain additional copies
    • Although SCUA archivists will remove duplicates when they are encountered, they make no special effort to be thorough.
    • Photostats, photocopies, or digital copies of materials held in other repositories are generally not retained unless the originals are unavailable to the public.
    • Unidentified photographs: Although unidentified photographs have only a limited utility for researchers, SCUA’s archivists may choose to retain them due to their artistic merit, their role within the context of the collection as a whole, the scene(s) or period of time represented, or the photographic process involved.

Considerations around restricted materials

  • Closure due to privacy: Although SCUA regularly agrees to close portions of a collection, or even an entire collection to preserve privacy or confidentiality; we do not accept materials that are permanently closed.
    • SCUA is glad to work with donors to discuss closure of sensitive materials and arrive at a clearly specified date after which the materials may be made available to the public.
  • Copyright restrictions: SCUA often accepts materials in which the donor retains copyright or in which copyright is help by a third party, however these can be less convenient for researchers to use.
  • Materials on deposit: Due to considerations over liability and the potential for scholarly confusion, SCUA does not accept materials on deposit, wherein SCUA acts as steward of materials for which the donor retains legal ownership.
  • Other considerations: SCUA may choose not to accept materials for which we cannot provide proper stewardship due to the lack of necessary technology or skills. For example, materials that require specific equipment or proprietary software to use or materials written in languages or scripts for which we have lack expertise may be better cared for and used at another institution. To the extent that we are able, we will be glad to assist you in locating a better home for your materials.