As explained in the article, the AHC embraced reappraisal and deaccessioning as essential collection management tools—as a logical extension of developing a collection development plan and as a secondary method for dealing with a backlog of unprocessed and uncataloged collections (the primary method the AHC used was creating collection-level catalog-records for every otherwise unprocessed collection that did fit the new collection development plan). Reappraising a collection requires learning what the collection contains, i.e. material types, subjects represented, dates, and physical condition. AHC archivists then compared this information to its well-defined collecting policy to determine if the collection fit and should be cataloged. When a collection did not fit the collecting policy, it was reviewed for deaccessioning. This careful analysis meant that 23% of collections reviewed were found to be germane to our collecting plan and were cataloged.
The article describes a systematic, step-by-step process for responsible and ethical deaccessioning. From legal issues to donor relations, the case study provides a practical method for other repositories wishing to do something about collections that fall outside their collecting scope. As stated in the article, by using deaccessioning “the AHC was able to eliminate a huge backlog, make more collections accessible, and do it without sacrificing important relationships with donors and colleagues.” To read how they did it, please see the case study here.
This article represents the first publication in the American Archivist for both Laura and Claudia; the journal is far and away the largest English-language peer-reviewed archival publication on earth. The article also represents the first time in several decades that the journal has featured an article about reappraisal and deaccessioning, topics gaining more currency within the archival profession since the completion of the large AHC project and the publication (in a much smaller archival journals) of two articles by AHC director Mark Greene: “What WERE We Thinking? Embracing Reappraisal and Deaccessioning as a Collection Management Tool,” Provenance 20 (2002) 33-49 and “I’ve Deaccessioned and Live to Tell About It: Confessions of an Unrepentant Reappraiser,” Archival Issues, 30:1 (2006), 7-22.
–Laura Uglean Jackson, University Archivist