4.8. Records appraisal
Records Centres enable a number of processes to be carried out on records. One of the most basic and fundamental principles of managing records is that each record must have a clearly identified and specified destination. The absence of such specification is the equivalent of boarding a bus or train without an identifiable destination. All records must be appraised to determine the duration of their value. The appraisal process examines both their primary and secondary values and takes into consideration a multiplicity of factors ranging from their usefulness to the creating agency, the necessities of fulfilling various requirements of a legal or financial nature to their usefulness to researchers and others. Records appraisal is an absolute necessity and out of it should emerge a clear set of standing instructions for continuing series of records that enable such records to be dealt with in the manner specified. Records appraisal is a complex process with many far reaching implications and there must be a mechanism that ensures that as many factors and requirements as possible are brought into consideration before decisions are reached. The primary instrument for doing this is usually a Records Committee which brings together people from different levels and sectoral interests and includes representatives of the creating agencies and of the archival institution.
Decision making is partially based on precedent. Precedent is contained in the records of past transactions. It is however often difficult to determine in advance those records which contain precedents that will be useful at a later stage. For this reason it is important to have a properly constituted appraisal system as this is the only way in which decision makers can be assured that records are disposed of after the most thorough consideration. The absence of an appraisal mechanism has serious adverse consequences on the decision making process. Even in the best of circumstances it has always been difficult to decide what constitutes a record copy. It is also difficult to decide if various drafts of a report for instance should be kept or only the final copy. Uncontrolled disposal results in the destruction of records which may have been of paramount value at a later stage.
Deposit of records at a Records Centre facilitates the appraisal process. Not only does the Records Centre ensure that appraisal is done, but the transfer of the records leads to their listing and description which is an essential part of the appraisal process. In an automated Records Centre system, there is also an important off spill.
The system may be able to identify records of a similar nature or subject that have previously been deposited or it can show the absence of similar records and therefore point to the need to retain such records. The system can also have far reaching implications for the decision makers. One of the greatest difficulties for the decision makers is to know if relevant information exists or is held by other ministries or departments. The magnitude of this problem can be appreciated if it is realised that even within the same ministry or department it is not always easy to obtain access to the records of other units. Petty jealousies as well as fierce competition often results in restrictions on the availability of information. At a higher level ministries and departments are often in competition with each other. vying to be seen to be the most innovative and to get credit and recognition for undertaking certain projects. While, indeed, depending on the political systems, there is an exchange of information at for instance Cabinet level, nevertheless each ministry and department wants to justify its existence and to secure a larger allocation of the available resources. In these circumstances information must be strictly guarded and thus to a large extent those operating in other ministries have little access to much needed information.
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