II. Collection Policy & Appraisal
Every archives must have a collection policy. That is, every archives must decide what it is they plan to collect. An archives defines its identity by its collection policy. A collection policy determines the records an archives will seek to preserve and make available for research use. For example, congregational archives usually collect only the records of their congregation. Some congregational archives, however (especially those in areas where there are no other repositories of Jewish records), might collect records of the surrounding Jewish community. These decisions are dependent on individual circumstances and resources.
Whatever the collection policy, it should be clearly and specifically laid out and formally adopted as part of the archives' operating policy. Usually, the collection policy is briefly mentioned in the mission statement then explained in detail in a separate document.
To not have a collection policy is to invite chaos. A collection policy benefits the archives by focusing energy and resources towards specific goals, preventing distractions and diversions.2
Archives cannot collect everything. They must set strict parameters in collecting and stick to them. It is useless to establish a collection policy and then ignore it. The collection policy can change with changing circumstances and needs, but only after careful deliberation and then with approval of the archivist, archives committee and/or synagogue board.
Using a collection policy to select materials for retention and preservation is called appraisal. Archival appraisal is the application of the guidelines and criteria of a collection policy in determining what records an archives will collect. Appraisal is the process archivists use in determining which records should be accessioned (or accepted) into their repository.3
Appraisal has been called "the archivist's first responsibility" and defined as "the selection of records of enduring value."4 Appraisal has also been called "the process of determining the value and thus the disposition of records."5 Appraisal is the bedrock of archival work. One commentator has written that "the surest proof of sound records appraisal lies in the quality of use of the archives and the growth of its reputation among the [public] it serves."6
For the purposes of this manual appraisal should be recognized as the process whereby the goals of a collection policy are put into action, resulting in the development of a strong and useful collection of records. In using the guidelines of a collection policy a congregational archives will decide if a collection of records—be they minutes of the board, administrative office files, or the papers of a synagogue member—meet the criteria established in the collection policy and are worthy of permanent retention in the archives. Conversely, through appraisal the archives will also decide which materials will not be kept and therefore be targeted for disposal.
Appraisal should always be based on the established criteria contained in the archives' collection policy. These criteria should be applied consistently every time.
Much has been written on appraisal. It is a leading field of study and debate among archivists. It is beyond the scope of this brochure to examine appraisal in depth but the reader is encouraged to do so. The appendix contains suggested readings on archival appraisal.