This past Monday I had the opportunity to attend the SAA workshop “Appraisal of Electronic Records” held at the METRO office in NYC. Taught by Caryn Wojcik, Government Records Archivist for the State of Michigan, the objective of the workshop was to discuss some of the unique issues involved with the appraisal of electronic records and adapt the approach to appraisal in response.
In general, the course accomplished its goal of educating archivists about the many challenges faced in the long-term retention of electronic records, as well as with the actual appraisal of those records; whether it be with records retention policies or the technical issues of accessing the electronic records and their accompanying metadata. Ms. Wojcik provided an excellent overview of the questions one needs to ask related to the various challenges-such as accessibility, formatting and the preservation of authenticity. The course was also very good at describing the types of data one will come across in the appraisal process (both structured and unstructured varieties) as well as the specific challenges of each type of data; however, the presentation was far stronger in regards to the approach for the analyzation and appraisal of structured data than unstructured. This is likely in large part due to the nature of the data itself, but it would have been beneficial to discuss some potential ways that one could approach those challenges.
Additionally, it would have been beneficial to talk more about the “physical” process of the appraisal itself. While there were discussions about changes that need to be made to appraisal policies and questions to ask during appraisal, the challenges of the actual act of appraising the records could have used more time-how do you locate which records you need on a creator’s media? Or how do you view the records in a systematic process? Another limit to the workshop was one that the presenter herself addressed, that, because her background is with institutional records, she is not as familiar and able to speak to the challenges of appraising electronic records in manuscript collections. The course was aimed more towards institutions that have a stronger voice in the creation (or enforcement) of electronic records policies for their institutions. While we as an institution can make recommendations to our donors as to how to organize their records as well as control whether or not we will take those records in the end, we cannot force the institutions to follow any particular records management procedures if they do not choose to do so.
Overall, the workshop was beneficial as a preliminary tool for reconfiguring your approach to appraisal in consideration of electronic records, but was lacking in terms of the practical application of the theory to the process itself.