The Minnesota Method Explained

Margot Note

Margot Note

May 23, 2022

Archivists Mark Greene and Todd Daniels-Howell, who were both employed at the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS), focused on the role of business records within that large collecting repository, which had state government records and a responsibility to document a geographic area as well as topics.

The project included much preparatory work, including collection analysis, to frame business collecting within a larger scope. However, they also knew they had to get a better grasp of what they already had.

Developing the Method

To tackle this project, they created the Minnesota Method. It includes several steps and draws from previous appraisal models. The first step is defining, analyzing, and surveying, drawing from the organization’s collecting policy. Archivists should define collecting areas, such as geographic, chronological, type of business, or other areas. Next, they should analyze the collection and survey other relevant repository holdings and collection goals.

The second step is determining the documentary universe and consultation, which is informed by documentation strategy. Archivists should survey relevant government records and other documentary sources, and consult with selected subject experts, researchers, creators, or business archivists.

The next step is to prioritize, which pulls from macro-appraisal. Archivists should define their criteria for prioritization. They then concentrate on industrial sectors, individual businesses, geographic regions, or chronological periods into two to five tiers.

The fourth step is to define functions and documentary levels, which comes from functional analysis. Archivists should define functions and information most appropriate to a particular collecting area and documentary levels relating to these functions.

Archivists refine prioritization. By doing so, they refine prioritization within tiers. They then connect documentary levels to priority tiers, such as the practical, operational differences in their approach to top priority companies versus second priority. Finally, they will test the model by applying it to real companies, either those already accessioned or realistic possibilities.

The sixth and final step is updating the collections through collection analysis, research, and consultation. Collections should be updated every three to seven years.

Levels of Collecting

The methodology ties to the levels of collecting. Level A is the highest. It thoroughly documents both internal and external facets of a company and has active solicitation by MHS. It seeks records further down the organizational ladder, to division level in large, decentralized organizations and department level in smaller organizations.

Level B seeks to document internal and external facets, but only at the highest administrative rung—the CEO and Board. Internal factors include decision making, planning internal communication, production facilities, legal, employee training and culture, research and development, and summary accounting. External facets include marketing, community relations, products, stockholders, and financing. Records at Level B are not actively solicited.

Level C offers minimal documentation of internal facets; the focus is more on external aspects. Internal functions are collected at the summary level. Personal associated papers not sought or accepted unless relevant for other reasons. The materials in Level C are not actively solicited.

Level D attempts to preserve minimal evidence of the existence and purpose of a company. Materials may include annual reports, some product information like catalogs, and company histories. Not surprisingly, Level D materials are not actively solicited.

Decision-Making

The question becomes, how did archivists using the Minnesota Method decide what collecting level a particular business falls under? They looked at the geography of the state and divided that into sectors. They also divided the types of business up into sectors and then ranked those sectors into four priorities for collecting. For this project, the priorities included:

  • Agriculture/Food Products and Services, Health Care, Medical Technology
  • Associations, Merchandising, Transportation
  • Entertainment, Sports, Financial Products/Services, Hospitality/Tourism, Lumber/Forest Products, Manufacturing (non-Agricultural), Media, Service
  • Legal, Mining, Other Technology, Real Estate/Land Development, Utilities

They based those priorities on several factors built into decision points and flow charts to decide on a specific collection. Some elements included if the organization was a top 25 employer, a top 5 regional employer, an industry leader, and representative of their industry. They considered if no other repository had the materials and if the materials were within the cost of retention limits. Other influences included if the collections were offered from the first time from that sector, if the business was minority-owned, and if the business had a state or local identification. Lastly, they considered the corpus of the collection; a complete, exceptional body of records increases the value of a whole.

Applications to Archives

The Minnesota Method is labor-intensive but less political than other documentation strategies. Whether it is a realistic approach to apply to other archives depends on the repository. When the method is applicable, it presents a transparent methodology for making appraisal decisions.

Margot Note

Margot Note

Margot Note, archivist, consultant, and Lucidea Press author is a regular blogger, and popular webinar presenter for Lucidea, provider of ArchivEra, archival collections management software for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities. Read more of Margot’s posts here.

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