| The archival appraisal of records containing personal information: A RAMP study with guidelines |
|4. Appraisal methodologies, criteria, and options|
37. Most appraisal decisions for series of records containing personal information will be complicated and stratified depending on the agency, the programme, its citizens, and the nature of the records. Here a concrete example might be helpful for readers. To return to the Canadian immigration agency cited earlier in this report, the following appraisal decisions were made in late 1987 on a records schedule for the paper case files located in headquarters, regional offices, and field contact centres, as well as those in many appeal boards and tribunals.19 Three other types of records were not covered by the schedule submitted by the agency, but these records were also considered in the appraisal decision in order to make a more comprehensive and accurate evaluation: the policy and subject files, the microfilmed landing record form for each immigrant, and the electronic demographic data on immigrants. Although there were subtle distinctions between the various levels of the hierarchy, in general the following records were identified for archival retention:
-- all case files the surnames of whose subjects begin with the letter "F" (just under a 4 per cent sample of the series); as well as
-- all "unusual, controversial, historic, or precedent-setting" cases as defined by the agency;
-- all case files still surviving from before a significant cut-off date in the development of the automated systems and surviving electronic records in the agency (1969);
-- all "fat files" (the dimensions of which were specified);
-- all case files bearing a special "SF" prefix indicating a classification to the level of secret or marked "secret" (thus indicating special sensitivity in the eyes of the agency);
-- all case files whose subjects launched appeals to very high levels or tribunals in the system;
-- all case files for one ethnic group over an eight-decade period (which had survived intact in the agency);
-- all case files bearing special prefixes ("H" for Hindu, etc.) that designated a particular ethnic group, or person from it, segregated from the main case file series; and
-- all related indexes, registers, file classification manuals, and other similar finding aids.
The "F" letter was chosen because it was shown, after extensive study and computer analysis, to be one of the few letters inclusive of almost all ethnic groups' linguistic patterns for surnames. Because of the way the records are organized, numbered, and scattered, and because the series is open-ended and not closed, statistically valid random sampling was not considered possible. Recommended for destruction in this appraisal decision were over 95 per cent of the total files (i.e., those which were not in the "F" sample or the other much more limited categories), as well as virtually all files, which were very voluminous, relating to assisted passage and transportation loans or warrants (files prefixed "AP," "TL," or "W"). As well, it was recognized in preparing this appraisal that, as the National Archives of Canada gains better control over the electronic data bases of the immigration agency, several categories of records now scheduled for permanent retention in paper format may no longer be needed: the "F" sample and the single ethnic group, for example. As well, when overseas processes are better integrated electronically, the archival retention of related microfilmed records of overseas applications and cases from the records of the separate External Affairs agency of the Canadian government may also be discontinued. Appraisal must remain a dynamic process, ever changing as the circumstances of records creation and media transformation change.20
38. In conclusion, when appraising records containing personal information as defined in this study, the archivist must consider four factors in this order: researching and analyzing the "macro-appraisal" model of the societal "image"; utilizing the comprehensive approach to records assessment and scheduling; applying the general working rules and specific appraisal criteria; and tempering the decision, if at this point it is still positive, with whatever relevant practical, preservation, and political considerations may exist. In most cases, the latter will lead to some form of sampling as the best option.