A Modern Archives Reader Book Review
- Daniels, Maygene and Timothy Walch, editors. A Modern Archives Reader, Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1984.
A Modern Archives Reader is an archival science reader that was developed by the National Archives and Records Administration. It includes readings on archival history, records administration, appraisal, acquisition, arrangement, description, reference, public programs, and archival management. The work is now over twenty years old, but many of the articles are valuable, especially the articles written by Posner, Schellenberg, Ham, and Jenkinson. The chapter on arrangement includes two essays. In the first, Ernst Posner outlines developments that have happened in archives since the French Revolution. Posner notes that the French Revolution provided a centralized national archives, put the state in charge of records, and provided for the accessibility of records. Then he traces the development of archives administration, legislation, and the concept of respect des fonds. The second article on history provides Sir Hilary Jenkinson's reflections on being an archivist. Jenkinson stresses that archives come together naturally, are used for unintended reasons, have an important custodial history, and have the potential for helping anyone in the world.
The chapter on appraisal contains an article on appraisal by Schellenberg. In this article, he sets forth the several distinctions between primary and secondary values, and informational and evidential values. Schellenberg sees these distinctions as important to understanding archives. He supplies tests to apply for evidential and informational values. Leonard Rapport also offers an article that in some respects is a reassessment of Schellenberg's ideas. He argues that some accessions should be re-accessioned, and that sometimes this should occur to reduce bulk and to dispose of records that are not worthy of being kept. The acquisitions chapters offer advice on developing a collecting policy, developing collections, performing field work, and deed of gifts.
The chapter on arrangement offers articles by Schellenberg and Oliver Wendell Holmes on the levels of arrangement. While both chapters are detailed, Holmes offers instruction on even boxing, shelving, and labeling files. A chapter on organizing photographic collections also recommends that photographic collections be treated as collections, rather than individual items. It notes that there are (at least at the time the article was written) no standards for cataloging photographic collections. There are also sections dealing with finding aids, inventories, registries, and subject guides.
In the chapter of reference, Mary Jo Pugh contends for indexes within archives in order to provide adequate access points to collections that have a provenance based arrangement. Finally, Gerald Ham treats the processes at work in archival selection in an article entitled, The Archival Edge. He notes that many have criticized archivists for having a slipshod methodology when it comes to selection. Ham himself enquires why archivists document the experience of humanity so poorly. He offers five developments that force archivists to be more active: institutionalization, bulk, missing data, vulnerable records, and technology. For archivists to adjust to these changes and select materials well, Ham suggests that they must change their habits, be committed to developing national guidelines, allocate resources better to collect missing data, and actively engage in documenting culture.