Australia’s Heritage Collections Council published “Significance: A Guide to Assessing the Significance of Cultural Heritage Objects and Collections” in 2001. The guide was written to provide “a sound basis on which to make collection management decisions in relation to conservation, preservation and access.” I thought this was a good case study for me because they emphasize the guide’s role as and the importance of a consistent and agreed upon set of criteria for significance assessment. This is what I am working toward so that TAMI can sift through the abundance of VHS and create manageable, useful collections for users.

The 75 page “Significance” document no doubt took years of research from many institutions in Australia and contains heaps of useful information for me to consider, but what I want to focus on is the outcome of their work, their methodology. The guide provides a good example of a rigid criteria and evaluation process for me to study and perhaps draw on as I begin to write a standards proposal.

For the purposes of this document, evaluating significance means analyzing the object, understanding its history and context, and identifying its value for communities. The steps of the assessment process are:

  1. Compile all available details about an object and its history
  2. Research the history and provenance of the object
  3. Talk with donors, owners, users, and relevant community associations
  4. Understand the context of the object
  5. Analyze and record the fabric of the object
  6. Consider comparative examples
  7. Assess significance against main criteria (see below)
  8. Write a succinct statement of significance

The four primary criteria presented are:

  1. historic
  2. aesthetic
  3. scientific, research or technical
  4. social or spiritual
Five modifiers to the criteria are:
  1. provenance
  2. representativeness
  3. rarity
  4. condition, completeness, or intactness and integrity
  5. interpretive potential
Using these criteria, a statement of significance is created, making an argument or assertion. This statement will serve as a “reference point for all policies and future decisions about how that object is managed.” For TAMI, this statement could either be filed with the collection’s records or submitted to the Digital Librarian for approval.


I think a good deal of this process, especially the criteria, could apply to a methodology for TAMI, but the issue of when significance should be assessed brings up my question from a previous post about whether each video must be viewed in its entirety. To apply this methodology, or something similar, the details of the tape must be viewed to understand its context, create comparative examples, see the aesthetic, determine research potential and social significance, etc. I currently believe that every  video in a collection must be viewed before representativeness can be determined and the best quality, most complete, videos can be selected for online representation.


Other things from this study to keep in mind as I move forward:

  • focus on materials that are most consistent with TAMI’s mission, themes, and audience
  • “vulnerable histories”
  • could any of these objects qualify for grants or other funding?