Guidelines for Evaluation of Archival Institutions

The Guidelines for the Evaluation of Archival Institutions first appeared in 1977 as the Principles of Institutional Evaluation, a product of the Task Force on Institutional Standards, and have been revised and updated by the Committee on Institutional Evaluation (CIED). SAA Council established CIED in June 1989 to carry forward the work of the task force.

In 1986, the SAA Task Force on Goals and Priorities described the archival mission: to ensure the identification, preservation, and use of records of enduring value. The task force's report, Planning for the Archival Profession, pointed to planning by archival institutions as the best means for the profession to fulfill the archival mission. Strong institutions should be able to evaluate their progress as well as explain their program to those outside the profession.

The purpose of the guidelines is to provide an objective and consistent framework against which archives can measure their development, recognizing the diversity of both archival institutions and archival media. Each statement points to a fundamental aspect of an archives' operations and describes a basic level of resources or activity. Archives are encouraged to use these guidelines as a basis for self-evaluation and program development. The broader audience for this document includes other constituent groups, such as donors and resource allocators, who may need to understand and evaluate the effectiveness of archival institutions.

The ten statements that follow have already appeared in several SAA publications, including The Evaluation of Archival Institutions (1982), Archives Assessment and Planning Workbook (1989), and a series of articles in the SAA News letter (May, July, and November 1989; May and September 1990). This framework derives from the accreditation approach adopted by the American Association of Museums. Variations on these guidelines have been issued by other archival organizations, including the New York State Archives and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators.

The Society of American Archivists has published and/or endorsed standards, guidelines, and recommendations on a wide range of topics, including arrangement and description, preservation, ethics, access to archival materials, cataloging and bibliographic description, archival education, acquisitions and collection development, reference services, and public programs. A variety of complementary standards and guidelines, issued by related organizations (e.g. the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries) provide additional information on many of these topics.

1. Legal Authority and Purpose

There should be explicit documentation of the legal status and authority of an archives. The archives should have a formal statement of its purpose.

2. Governing Authority and Administration

The governing authority of the archives should adopt statements of basic policy and establish areas of administrative authority. There should be a clear understanding of the differences between governance and administration. Staff should be involved in both the planning and evaluation of specific objectives and priorities established to carry out the statement of purpose.

An archives which is part of a larger institution should be within an appropriate organizational unit, one which understands and supports the goals and functions of the archives. The administrator of the archives should be involved in the planning and evaluation processes of the parent institution as they affect the archives.

3. Financial Resources

Financial resources dependably available to the archives should be adequate to carry out its stated purpose. These available resources should be identified in a separate budget for the archives. Staff should have the opportunity to contribute to the budgeting process, and the administrator should be involved at a higher level if the archives budget is part of a larger budget.

4. Staff

Every archives should include on its staff at least one person who possesses, through education or experience, professional competence in archives management and should support continuing professional training and development. The archives should also have sufficient staff to supply services commensurate with its volume of holdings, the needs of its researchers, and programs designed to meet goals and objectives.

5. Physical Facilities

The archives should provide adequate and suitable space and facilities for administration, processing, storage, and use of its records in all formats and for all programs that are designed to meet stated goals and objectives.

6. Building Archival and Manuscript Holdings

An archives should have authority to receive the records, in all formats, of the institution of which it is a part. In order to identify records to be retained or destroyed, the archives, in conjunction with the other administrative subdivisions of the parent institution, should prepare and maintain written, approved records retention schedules.

If a repository acquires private papers or records from other organizations, it should have a formally adopted written acquisitions policy identifying the types of records the archives will attempt to acquire. Where appropriate, the repository should devise a manuscripts acquisition strategy that will enable it to obtain the types of materials that are compatible with its acquisition policy.

All acquisitions should be appraised to identify permanently valuable materials in all formats. The archives should maintain records to document the acquisitions process and should record the provenance of all accessions.

7. Preserving Archival and Manuscript Holdings

Archives should establish systematic programs of preservation management that are integrated with every other archival function through a coordinated set of activities designed to maintain records for use, either in their original form or in some other usable manner. Such programs should give priority to activities that mitigate the deterioration of materials or information and that encompass groups of material (environmental controls, storage management, disaster preparedness, staff and user education, holdings maintenance, security, and reformatting) over activities that redress damage such as item level conservation treatment.

Principles of archival appraisal should govern the selection of materials for prospective or retrospective preservation. Only conservation treatment methods consistent with current professional standards should be employed.

8. Arrangement and Description

Records and papers should be arranged in accordance with the principles of provenance and original order; records of different sources should not be intermingled, and records should be retained, whenever possible, in their original organizational pattern in order to preserve all relationships. Records in all formats should be appropriately housed, identified, and stored so that they are easily maintained and readily retrieved.

The archives should employ a system of finding aids that reflects current professional standards and provides essential information about the holdings for users and enables the archivist to retrieve materials. Finding aids should provide intellectual control and should proceed from the general to the specific. The level of description of records depends on their research value, the anticipated level of demand, and their physical condition.

9 . Access Policy and Reference Services

The archives should provide opportunity for research in the records it holds and should be open for research use on a regular and stated schedule. It should provide adequate space and facilities for research use and should make its records available on equal terms of access to all users who should abide by its rules and procedures. Any restrictions on access should be defined in writing and carefully observed.

Staff members familiar with the holdings and capable of making informed decisions about legal and ethical considerations affecting reference work should be available to provide information about holdings and assist and instruct users. The archives should provide information about its holdings, services, and fees and report its holdings to appropriate publications, databases, and networks. The archives should provide reproduction of materials in its possession whenever possible.

10. Outreach and Public Programs

The archives should identify its various constituencies in terms of its purpose, should plan and implement methods to assess the needs of these groups in relation to the resources of the institution, and devise outreach programs that will fit their needs. These programs may include workshops, conferences, training programs, courses, festivals, exhibits, publications, and similar activities, aimed at such groups as students, faculty members, scholars, administrators, researchers, donors, records creators, or the general community.

SAA Council Approval/Endorsement Date: 
January 1994


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