SAA Austin Recap #2! Acquisitions & Appraisal & Electronic Records Section Joint Section Meeting!

Author: Scott Kirycki, Digital Archivist, University of Notre Dame

Acquisitions & Appraisal + Electronic Records Section Joint Section Meeting at ARCHIVES*RECORDS 2019 

On August 3, 2019, members of the Acquisitions & Appraisal Section of the Society of American Archivists joined members of the Electronic Records Section for a combined annual meeting. The standing-room-only gathering examined the topic of digital appraisal through presentations and breakout sessions.

Business Meetings

After a welcome, opening comments, and an icebreaker, Marcella Huggard, Manuscripts Coordinator at the University of Kansas and Jess Farrell, Project Manager and Community Coordinator at the Educopia Institute led the section business meetings and reported on election results as well as activities of the sections from this past year. The Acquisitions & Appraisal Section has a newly-named Outreach Subcommittee that is working on ways to increase outreach. The Best Practices Subcommittee is documenting collection development policies, and the results will be available on the section’s microsite along with the popular Zotero bibliography of appraisal resources. The Steering Committee will be seeking an early-career member to join them. The Electronic Records Section is also seeking an early-career member for a community resource project and survey focused on resources for digital preservation. The Electronic Records Section blog (bloggERS!) served up twenty-seven new posts last year, and the section microsite was updated. 



The first presentation of the meeting came from Christian Kelleher, Head of Special Collections at the University of Houston Libraries and was titled “Advocating for Appraisal.” Kelleher encouraged appraisers to consider not only what are the best messages for advocacy but also how best to engage receivers of advocacy. Kelleher suggested talking creators through the “why” of collection policies and not just the “what.” Kelleher also brought up the implications that appraisal has for the amount of material stored and the consequent environmental impact of storage.

The next presentation was a lightning round on tools for born-digital appraisal​:

  • Dorothy Waugh, Digital Archivist at Emory University, described Emory’s experience with the appraisal module of ePADD, a software package that supports archival processes for email archives. ePADD is designed to be used by donors on their own or by donors and archivists working together. Waugh found that less technically-savvy donors had difficulty using the appraisal module on their own, but it was still helpful for focusing conversations between donors and archivists about sensitive content that might be in the email. The archivists could then label the sensitive content prior to transfer to ePADD’s processing module.
  • Jessica Venlet, Assistant University Archivist for Records Management and Digital Records at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill introduced the tools Brunnhilde and Bulk Extractor. Brunnhilde is a characterization tool for directories and disk images. Venlet said that the summary reports from Brunnhilde help structure discussions with colleagues about large, heterogeneous collections. File format breakdowns facilitate technical and content appraisal and can surface unusual, unexpected, or unwanted files in collections. Bulk Extractor searches collections for strings of text. Venlet confirmed that Bulk Extractor is effective at finding text although the results of searches can be voluminous and hard to parse.
  • The tools that Waugh and Venlet covered are open source; Cat Lea Holbrook, Archivist at the Schlesinger Library spoke about FTK, a paid program that has some functions similar to those in the other tools as well as functions that go beyond. FTK offers format characterization and collects additional details that can be the basis for appraisal work. It also does deduplication of files and can be used to make bookmarks that correspond with finding aid arrangement. 
  • The lightning round was followed by a case study of a student project on appraising electronic state agency records​. Pat Galloway, archival educator at the School of Information, University of Texas at Austin and students Amy Padilla, Natasha Kovalyova, and Haley Latta were part of a team that worked to make sense of Texas Department of Agriculture files for the first Texas State Library and Archives Commission born-digital integration. The team came up with an appraisal approach for community development block grant files that lacked organization and did not map well to a retention schedule based around “documents” instead of digital materials. Recommendations included standardized naming conventions, linking retention periods more closely to grant period requirements, and smaller, more frequent transfers to make appraisal more manageable. 

The final presentation on collective approaches to electronic appraisal took the form of a panel discussion. 

  • Carla Alvarez, from the Benson Latin American Collection at The University of Texas at Austin explained how a whole team (rather than an individual archivist) makes the determination of whether or not a potential project fits the scope of the collection. The team involves donors in the appraisal process and works through the donor guidelines face to face. 
  • Bonnie Gordon and Jen Hoyer from the Interference Archive, a volunteer-run library and archive of materials about social and political activism, described how their organization is set up from the start to be collective. Working groups begin with the principle that everyone’s knowledge is valuable. Rather than one person deciding what to do, all make suggestions. All volunteers and donors have access to the published collecting policy, and reappraisal discussions take place as collections are added to.

Breakout Sessions

The section meeting concluded with an opportunity for attendees to process the wealth of information they had received from the presenters. Breakout sessions formed for further discussion of the topics raised. Links to session notes are here:


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