This month’s Cataloguing Forum met on the 12th April to discuss appraisal, focusing on a recent survey of a collection within the Scottish Brewing Archive. Pictured below are just some of the items from this extensive collection.
We started the Forum by going into detail on the history of the collection. A key part of the appraisal process, is understanding the contextual information of the collection we are appraising. This is so we can have the knowledge required to understand the historic value of the collection and individual records.
At this point you’re probably asking, ‘well, what actually is appraisal?’ Appraisal is exactly what it says on the tin; it’s looking at a collection and its individual items and appraising its worth for the future users of Archives and Special Collections. It is surveying a collection’s evidential and/or informational value from the perspective of potential future researchers and the collection’s owner. Conservation and preservation issues should also be assessed.
To put appraisal into practice, we shall use beer cans as an example.
One of the questions we ask ourselves is: What is the evidential value of these artefacts?
- The value is that the cans are evidence of the company’s function as a brewery, and how packaging of beer changed over time. The textual information on the cans could also provide evidence of the changing legal landscape for brewers, concerning what information they were required to declare.
We also ask: What is the informational value of these artefacts to future users of archives?
- They carry information regarding branding and marketing, who the company perceived as being their market audience, etc. This might also have research interest for economic and social historians.
Another question to ask is: Can we preserve these artefacts?
- Usually, the blanket decision is that we don’t accept artefacts due to space and conservation requirements. However, during the appraisal process we can think about how we can preserve the items we have been given, and if they are important to keep. As these beer cans are useful to future researchers, and are an example of a company’s production, we can survey the amount we have in the collection and the value of maintaining them.
A further important aspect in the appraisal process that we discussed during the forum is evaluating data protection matters; we have to consider the sensitivity of materials and the data protection rights of the company and the individual. Thinking about data protection rights helps us to evaluate what processes and procedures would need to be implemented to comply with data protection laws.
Asking ourselves these simple questions and thinking about conservation and data protection contributes to the overall surveying of the records.
It helps us decide what we think is necessary to keep within a collection, and provides a framework to consult with the owners of the collection where appropriate on their overall idea of what needs to be kept and what is of value to the history of the company. Evaluating an item’s evidential value and its informational value is a key part of this task.
As appraisal provides the body of the work that goes into the process of cataloguing, it is required to ask and think about these questions for the survey process; which is why it was an important topic at this month’s forum.
From the perspective of a graduate trainee, it was interesting to learn about this vital process of cataloguing and take part in the discussion about appraisal within business collections.