Friday, October 2, 2009

Who Select The AV records

By Helen P Harrison, Media Library Consultant, Open University, UK

Who Selects
It is necessary to establish who will select the material and then formulate the criteria for selection. Some archives have selection staff who concentrate on the areas of acquisition and selection, others use a system of selection committees. But selection by consultation and committee is not necessarily a good thing. It is fraught with difficulty when sectional interests appear and squabbles break out between people from different disciplines. A short piece paraphrased from a book on Archive Administration written in 1922 by Hilary Jenkinson serves to point out the dilemma and;

"The archivist is concerned to keep materials intact for the future use of students working upon subjects which neither he nor any one else has contemplated. The archivist's work is that of conservation and his interest in his archives as archives, not as documents valuable for proving this or that thesis. How then is he to make judgements and choices on matters which may not be his personal concern. If the archivist cannot be of use, can we not appeal to the historian - he may seem the obvious person to undertake such a task. As soon, however, as the historian's claims in this connection are investigated it becomes clear that the choice of him as arbiter of the fate of archives is at least as open to criticism as that of the archivist. Must he not be regarded, where his own subject is concerned, as a person particularly liable to prejudice? Surely there will always remain the suspicion that in deciding upon a policy of archive conservation he favoured those archive classes which furthered his own special line of inquiry. The very fact that a historian is known to have selected for an archive is fatal to its impartiality".

Given the guiding principle that selection is of necessity a major concern of the archivist it is suggested that the people responsible for the collections are best able to judge what should be included, and all the ramifications of the selection decisions. Specially appointed staff in the archive can see the wider implications and if thoroughly versed in the aims and objectives of the particular archive are in a good position to select, but to be effective they must be carefully chosen, and they should have a set of criteria to work with.

Adapted from UNESCO

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