Only a fraction of an organization’s records finds their way into the archives. Archives hold non-current records with permanent historical value.
They are no longer needed during day-to-day institutional activities, but they document organizational history. Just as each organization is unique, its archives are equally distinctive. Professional archival principles and standards have been developed over decades of archival practice. However, each organization will adhere to them in its own way.
Archival principles include respect des fonds and original order. The principle of respect des fonds states that records of different origins, known as provenance, be kept separate to preserve their context. For example, suppose the correspondence of the CEO is filed in her office before it is archived. In that case, the correspondence should not be interfiled with the COO’s papers once those records are transferred to the archives. The principle of original order determines that the organization and sequence of records established by the creator of the records be maintained. As an archivist begins to survey their organization’s records and decide which belong in their archives and how they are organized, these principles will help preserve history, especially when the creators of the records are no longer active or alive. If archivists cannot determine the provenance or original order, they should organize the records so that they are easily searchable, such as alphabetically or chronologically.
Before creating an archives, an organization should conduct an archival assessment. During this process, the archivist meets individually or in groups with members of each department to become more familiar with the institution’s history, activities, and programs and further explore how the staff envisions the archives being used. An organizational chart is often helpful to guide these discussions as the creation and use of records and their types and formats relate to the organization’s structure.
The archivist will also survey what materials are currently kept and how they are housed. The investigator will discuss space, staffing, and support. The issue of how digital records, both born-digital and digitally reformatted, are stored should be addressed by all staff, especially those in the IT department.
Many archival assessments reveal that to establish the archives, the organization must formalize its record creation and retention processes and create and use a records retention schedule. An assessment will not only preserve records but can also improve current workflows and future efficiencies.
Following the preliminary assessment, the archivist prepares an assessment report for the institution that details the assessment findings and outlines a plan for moving forward. The report includes goals, including locating, preserving, and making accessible significant historical records. It may also develop preliminary record retention schedules and records management policies for archival and non-archival documents to manage the materials better. If the organization has an upcoming anniversary or other events they would like to use archived records, deadlines and goals for the events will be discussed. The report also addresses the archival program’s scalability and preservation issues.
A Comprehensive Survey
Once the organization has consulted with an archivist, conducted a preliminary assessment, reviewed recommendations, and committed to establishing an archival program, the archivist’s next steps could entail a comprehensive survey of current holdings. The preliminary assessment’s initial records survey may suffice if the organization is small. However, suppose the company is large or old. In that case, a more comprehensive survey may be in order and is required for specific preservation grants. During the survey process, the archivist works closely with the archives committee to review and make notes of existing records and their locations.
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