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The Appraisal of Modern Public Records: Foreword

by T. R. Schellenberg

Bulletins of the National Archives
Number 8 (October 1956)

FOREWORD

Perhaps the most difficult problem facing an archivist concerned with modern public records is that of appraisal. In the case of the Federal archivist this problem is particularly acute because of the recency and the mass of the records with which he deals. To help solve this problem, the present bulletin has been written. In it the values of public records are discussed in relation to the evidence they contain on the organization and functioning of Government bodies and the information in them on persons, things, and phenomena that were the concern of such bodies. While the bulletin contains no exact standards by which the value of records may be judged, it suggests certain broad approaches that should be taken in appraisal work.

The bulletin also contains convincing evidence that the evaluation of records is not a simple task. Appraisal judgments, it is clear, will be competent to the degree that the appraiser is well trained, has studied the organization, functions, and procedures of the agency whose records he is evaluating, and is familiar with the total research resources and needs of the field in which he is working.

Ever since the establishment of the National Archives 21 years ago, its professional staff has been appraising records. The results of that experience are reflected in the bulletin. As a part of our Records Management Program, we are now engaged in applying this experience to the management of current records and the improvement of paperwork generally throughout the Government. If properly carried out, this program should result not only in fewer and better records being created and maintained in the day-to-day business of Government, but in fewer and better records for future generations.

A recent report made by J. H. Collingridge of the British Public Record Office to the Third International Congress on Archives indicates that our professional colleagues abroad are also considering seriously the problems presented in appraising modern public records, and that their conclusions do not greatly differ from ours.

Dr. Schellenberg has been concerned with the problem of appraisal in various capacities in the National Archives. As Deputy Examiner he helped survey records of various Federal agencies to determine which of them were suitable for preservation; as Chief of the Division of Agriculture Department Archives he helped formulate procedures for scheduling records for disposal; and as Program Adviser he prepared a manual on the Disposition of Federal Records. He is now Director of Archival Management. During the Second World War he was Records Officer of the Office of Price Administration, and his experiences in selecting its records for preservation are reflected in this bulletin. He is author of Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques (Melbourne and Chicago, 1956).

WAYNE C. GROVER

Archivist of the United States

August 23, 1956


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