Because I did not take a formal course in appraisal, I went back and reviewed traditional archival appraisal theory in order to review basic standards.

I began with with T.R. Schellenberg’s “The Appraisal of Modern Records” written for the National Archives in 1956. Schellenberg proposes appraisal theory that laid the foundation for many modern archives. Two of his initial thoughts struck a chord with my project. One, that providing space and staff for the maintenance of the vast number of records we produce would require costs “beyond the means of the most opulent nation,” which, at the time, was a title for which the United States would have qualified. If even the National Archives of the United States in its post-war glory could not afford to maintain all of its records without rigorous appraisal, it is easy to see how a regional non-profit in the middle of a recession will need to strictly enforce appraisal standards. Schellenberg also pointed out that in order for retained records to have any purpose, they “must be reduced in quantity to make them useful for scholarly research.” This is a basic concept, but one that is especially relevant to the case of VHS collections in archives. There is so much captured on VHS that could be considered strictly superfluous, such as the common occurrence of long periods between any action on tape where the camera was left running. These lengthy interludes weigh down the usable pieces of the record and make searching through a recording an arduous process. This confirms our need to enforce appraisal, but the question remains of an archivist’s role in selecting pieces for retention.

Schellenberg defines archival value in terms of an object’s evidentiary values and informational values. For the purposes of TAMI, I believe that tests of informational values are much more relevant to its collections. With regard to home movies that document regional histories and daily lives of families, value can be easily measured by informational value’s assessment of persons, things, or [cultural] phenomena. Schellenberg’s three tests for the informational value of an object is in its uniqueness, form, and importance.

Uniqueness is defined both by the uniqueness of the physical object and the uniqueness of the information contained in the object. As most VHS tapes are abundant and TAMI returns the original object to the owner, the uniqueness of the physical object is a non-issue. The uniqueness of the information contained, however, is one of the biggest concerns for the archive. The idea of preserving the home movies of everyday citizens was not one that caught on until the mid-1990s, so many home movies, in addition to being unique in their own right (not mass produced, seldom copied, and infrequently migrated to new media), are often unique in the holdings of archives. There are special cases when the home movie collection of a noteworthy individual or one that contains footage of such an individual (see TAMI database category: Notable Texans) is acquired, and these videos remain a priority. This is a take on Schellenberg’s stance that the more important a person is, the more important their records are. But because TAMI collects home video collections of any and every Texan, it is often the things and phenomena that must be appraised. “Things” as applied to home movies, I believe, can be considered locations and Texas landmarks. The number or quality of videos that capture images of a city or region should be considered in terms of uniqueness, as well as creating the best representation of visits to specific Texas parks and monuments. Phenomena becomes a question of how many videos of Christmas, Easter, school plays, and birthdays the library should hold, and balancing those events with local festivals, ethnic celebrations, or other events not heavily represented in TAMI’s library.

Two points made by Schellenberg regarding uniqueness seemed especially significant for VHS appraisal. One, that “an archivist’s job in appraisal increases in difficulty as the documentation of society increases in quantity,” and two, an archivist “must apply standards of selection with constantly greater discrimination as he deals with more recent records; in particular, he must apply the test of uniqueness to them with great severity.” The former is an obvious, yet important (and somewhat foreboding), statement, as the hours of home videos in a collection multiplied exponentially with the onset of VHS. The latter is something which all archivists who, like myself, are passionate about the materials they protect must keep in mind as they make selections for permanent retention.

Form is a measure of the contained information’s concentration, whether it is extensive, intensive, or diversified.

  • Extensive – few facts about many persons, things, or phenomena
  • Intensive – many facts about few persons, things, or phenomena
  • Diversified – many facts about diverse matters

Schellenberg seems to prefer records that relate to greater quantities of persons, things, or phenomena as a means of maximizing space at the National Archives. I am not certain that this holds true for videos at TAMI. I believe that an intensive video that fully explores a person, family, community, location, event, or celebration might be a better fit for a moving image archives. A more focused exploration of the video’s subject would likely be a better quality video, resulting in better documentation of what is hopefully a unique instance. Form also refers to the physical condition of the original object, which would apply in our case to a master vs. copy of a video and the condition of the original VHS– its ability to produce a high quality digital capture.

Importance is perhaps the most tricky of the informational values, as it is impossible to determine now if a record will be important in the future. The best we can do is to determine how important the materials in our collection will be to our audience. As Schellenberg argues, we would not want to expend resources on recordings that will only be useful to those researching an obscure or highly specialized topic. We should consider if the videos in question will be effective research materials. How relevant are these videos to a broad audience? To research importance of VHS at TAMI, I need to determine exactly who our audience is. I also want to explore the idea of important video subjects (persons, things, phenomena) based on their popularity through analytics statistics.



All quotes pulled directly from