| The archival appraisal of records containing personal information: A RAMP study with guidelines |
|4. Appraisal methodologies, criteria, and options|
8. The main working rule for archivists in appraising all records is to destroy them.5 On the standard 5 per cent: 95 per cent ratio of keep versus destroy -- which in many countries is closer to 2:98 or 1:99 -- "it is neither scientifically desirable nor economically defensible to spend most of our time and energy on minutely culling the larger mass of records".6 If this is true for all records, then it is especially so for large series of case files containing personal information. The focus for the archivist should not be to explain what is being destroyed, but rather to advance "definite and compelling justifications" for what is being kept. Of that 5 per cent of paper records so selected, many will be policy or significant subject files, but a large volume may be textual case files in paper format (especially where there are strong pressures to save records for their informational values).7
9. Essential records containing personal information, as outlined in Chapter 2, sections 22 and 23, are not covered by these rules or by the theoretical considerations of Chapter 3. Such essential categories of records are not acquired by archives to sharpen the societal image (although they obviously contribute to it), but rather to provide a demographic profile of the nation, to protect citizens' rights, and to underpin certain judicial processes.
10. Personnel records similarly are acquired both in their own right for the evidential and informational value they have in isolation (see Chapter 2, sections 24 to 28), as well as for how they may contribute to the overall societal image.
11. Where the principal value of the important personal information records coming from the "macro-analysis" of the societal image is determined by the archivist to be collective and quantitative rather than personal and qualitative, the record should usually be kept in electronic rather than paper format, where both exist. The advantages of the machine-readable version of the record are numerous, in addition to obvious savings in space and storage costs: manipulability of the information, ease of anonymization permitting public access in light of tougher privacy laws, linkage to other data to create "new" information bases and potential for aggregation and statistical analysis.8 As noted before, this rule may apply to essential personal information records as well, and it does apply to personnel records series.
12. As outlined in the last chapter, records containing personal information should not be kept to document the historical significance of a programme or an agency per se (as opposed to the concept of sharpening the societal image). The only exception is that a small example of case files may sometimes be kept to demonstrate the forms used where the programme was of particular importance. Keeping large examples or more formal samples merely to show the processes of the agency or the nature of its daily operations is rarely justifiable. Information on processes and operations, as noted, is readily available elsewhere in the information universe and records hierarchy. This rule also includes attachments to or associated artifacts connected with case files, such as X-rays, fingerprints, weapons, blood samples, and so on.
13. The primary use of records must not be confused with their secondary, archival uses, although the nature of the primary use is clearly important to understanding the records' context during the appraisal process. Simply because a department has a long-term and sometimes even a permanent use for a record does not render such case files an archival record, unless they also have significance in terms of the societal model in Chapter 3 or of informational value for research. It may be that political pressure, as noted before, may in some countries require such records to be stored in the national archives, but that is a pragmatic decision, not one based on archival significance.
14. In addition to researching and understanding all the factors and variables outlined in the last two chapters, archivists must ensure that they do not give undue weight to various types of records. They cannot appraise a large series of case files by "spot-checking" or by accepting the word of the agency's officials that various records are duplicated in other series and/or in other levels of the administrative hierarchy. Archivists must approach the task more comprehensively and scientifically. In appraising 135,000 cubic feet of Department of Justice litigation case files in the United States, for example, archivists followed the department's own classification system to break the cases into 194 distinct categories (kidnapping to insurance fraud) and then used a consistent sampling methodology to select a balanced number of files from each category for study during the appraisal process. This is sampling for appraisal rather than for acquisition and transfer. As the number of cases ranged from over 10,000 in each of anti-trust, land, and taxation categories to under 10 for those relating to misuse of insignia, census violations, or farm loans, such scientific categorization and sampling is necessary in order to understand the nature of the records involved and to ensure that cases with few instances are not overlooked and those with many are not overemphasized. The Department of Justice methodology is not only directly relevant to the personal case file series of other judicial, court, police, and intelligence agencies, but also to any series which on the surface appears to be homogeneous, but which in reality has various internal categories or functions.9