How Archivists at the California State Archives Determine Archival Value

The Secretary of State, through the State Archives, has the authority to identify and retain those records "deem[ed] to be of historical value” (Government Code Section 12224). Further, "A record shall not be destroyed or otherwise disposed of by an agency of the state, unless it is determined by the Secretary of State that the record has no further administrative, legal, or fiscal value and the Secretary of State has determined that the record is inappropriate for preservation in the State Archives“ (Government Code Section 12275(a).

Whether the Archives keeps a particular record series is determined through the process of appraisal. There are several steps in the appraisal process:

  • Reviewing the retention schedules
  • Appraising the records prior to transfer (does not always occur)
  • Looking at the records at the time of accessioning
  • During processing, when the records are being fully arranged and described.

Some series descriptions found on retention schedules do a poor job of describing the records, so we may flag something that *reads* great on a schedule, but (after being physically appraised) may be unworthy of archival retention. And vice-versa: the records may not be flagged, but should be retained

Appraisal Values

So how do we decide what to keep? As professional archivists, we are trained to appraise records by looking at several different values. These values fall into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary values may be administrative, legal, or fiscal. Generally speaking, primary values become less important as time passes, although this is not always the case. Records with still important primary values are usually still active and have not yet reached the end of their approved retention periods.

Examples of Primary Values:

  • Administrative: Policies and Procedures; Legislative Records; Personnel Files; Minutes; Correspondence
  • Legal: Investigative Cases; Hearing Files; Legal Opinions
  • Fiscal: Audit Reports; Warrant Registers; Travel Claims

Secondary values include evidential and informational values -- these two values are the principal concerns of archivists. Evidential values are those used to "determine the organizational structure of an institution, document its procedures, policies and activities, and evaluate its effectiveness." Informational value is placed on those records that have information about "persons, places, subjects, and things other than the operation of the organization that created them. Informational values in records are used for studies concerning historical events, social developments, or any subject other than the organization itself.

Examples of Secondary Values

  • Evidential: Policies and Procedures; Minutes; Project Files; Correspondence; Org Charts; Duty Statements; Press Releases
  • Informational: Patient Case Files; Physician Licensing Files; Cosmetologists/Barbers Licensing Files; Legislative Records; Special Event Files, such as Sesquicentennial and Black History Month activities

In addition to the values, we look at the level of activity, i.e. are the records of a housekeeping nature, or were they created at the top-levels of the agency? We are not interested in records that show who checked out the department van or who lost their keycard or how much paper was ordered for the copy machine. We are interested in those records that reflect policy formulation and program management. In addition, we look at the significance of the function for which the records were created; the uniqueness of the information; the usability of the information; and, the relationship to other records series within the agency, at other agencies, and those already housed at the Archives.

We also look at what is currently being requested in the research room and what events appear in newspapers and on television. We try to be futurists and anticipate what tomorrow's researchers may need in terms of documentation of our own times.

All of the above actions, referred to as the Art of Appraisal, are used to determine archival value. It’s not a science, and can differ from archivist to archivist depending on the individual’s professional, and personal (to a degree), experience and judgment.

Contacts for Additional Information

For more information on the California State Archives' State Records Appraisal Program, contact Jeff Crawford or Andrew Hyslop. Telephone calls may be directed to (916) 653–7715 or email  SRAP.

For research requests, please review Collections and Frequently Asked Questions then contact the Reference Desk.