Maintaining Institutional Historical Collections through Rapid Appraisal of Employee Files
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In the past decade, institutions like the National Agricultural Library (NAL) have not consistently preserved records documenting their history. This lack of documentation has the potential to damage the credibility and transparency of federal institutions like the NAL. This paper considers how employee’s personal work files can supplement other records to document the history of federal institutions, and suggests procedures for rapid, systematic appraisal of employees’ files to support efficient collection development. In an effort to fill gaps in the historical record of the NAL, Susan McCarthy, Associate Director for the NAL’s Knowledge Services Division, donated her collected analog and digital work papers—amassed over a thirty-year career—to NAL Special Collections. McCarthy also hired two archives fellows (the authors of this report) to assist Special Collections with processing her collected documents, and to conduct research on rapid appraisal methods to support efficient processing of this very large collection. We conducted an initial survey of McCarthy’s files and found valuable information pertaining to events and activities in the history of the NAL. In order to rapidly appraise those materials for the collection, we crafted a collection development policy specific for McCarthy’s documents by researching policies at other national libraries. The results uncovered in this process indicate that institutions should seriously consider supplementing historical collections with employee’s work files, and conducting outreach for external help when appraising donations for these collections.