Resource of the Month: Parliamentary Institutions: The Criteria for Appraising and Selecting Documents

Date: 2004/5 

Author: Maria Ángeles Valle de Juan (Ed.)  

Resource Summary       

Why we have selected it?     

We have chosen to focus this month on the ICA professional sections, as we have not yet done this. These are very useful resources, including a high degree of technical information. This month we have chosen a resource from the Section for Archives of Parliaments and Political Parties (SPP). In the coming months we will highlight resources from other ICA groups, including experts groups and regional branches. 

Background information 

In the 14th International Archives Congress in Seville, a new Committee on Parliamentary Archives and Records was elected, and since then a major focus of the Section has been to establish criteria and regulations, creating common tools of use to all archivists working with documentary collections of similar types. The adoption of guidelines for criteria for the evaluation of our document collections and the production of a standard form for the application of these criteria were initiated by the Spanish Section of the SPP which, after its meetings in Vitoria and Valencia, presented a draft to the annual meeting of the SPP in Madrid in 2003. This was approved as a useful working tool for the standardisation of criteria. 

Consideration of evaluation required in-depth knowledge of the regulations applied in Parliamentary Institutions. Analysis of the regulations and functioning of Parliaments indicated the functions and powers of each organic unit. The purpose of document evaluation is to classify documents according to their administrative, fiscal and legal values -as well as their informative and historical values- for preservation or destruction. The end result and the purpose of the publication is the working tool presented here which aims to bring together rules for evaluation which will then have to be approved by the Parliamentary Institutions. The purpose of publishing the proposals approved within the SPP is so that they may be applied in all archives which belong to the Section, with a view to promoting the prestige and importance of the role of archivists.  

What will you find in this resource?     

The importance of appraising parliamentary records is identified as being fundamental to the democratic process. 

" The purpose of this process must be to ensure that legislative chambers keep long term only that documentation which it is appropriate to store and which, overall, is a reflection and evidence of the institutional and political activity of that institution over time. In this way, only documentation to be preserved permanently will come to form part of societies’ documentary heritage. We must also bear in mind the fact that the aim of appraising the documents of a democratic institution must be to furnish citizens and society in general with transparent information and an understanding of parliamentary activity so that it can be preserved as the memory and documentary reflection of this democratic phase.” 

The resource identifies two main types of documentation common to all legislative assemblies: parliamentary documentation and administrative documentation. In order to make recommendations for how to approach parliamentary and political party records, the resource goes back to a theoretical discussion of approaches to appraisal, rooted in the work of the following pioneering individuals, all of whom made distinctive contributions to the theory and practice of archival appraisal: Hilary Jenkinson, Theodore Schellenberg, Brian Brothman, Vernon Harris, Terry Cook and Terry Eastward. As such, it considers theories followed in countries such as Canada, the United States, Britain, Australia, Germany, France and Spain. It also considers the approach taken by and the recommendations made by the international initiative InterPARES, for appraising digital records. As well as considering different theoretical approaches, it draws on the appraisal work done in different organisational contexts, including central, regional and local government and university records. 

The resource makes organisational recommendations on how best to approach the task to ensure plural participation representative of all the political parties involved. In addition to plural participation, it also stresses the importance of administrative independence, advising that: 

“Parliamentary institutions have to assess their documentation in the light of the legal ordinances of the country and by participating in the document selection bodies set up for this purpose in each region. Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that legislative chambers are covered by a special legal system that grants them administrative independence, though this should not be an obstacle to working together and in agreement with other professionals.” 

The final section of the resource includes a template form and set of instructions for completing the assessment and selection of records, as well as a detailed glossary of terms.  

Discover the Resource by clicking here