A crucial aspect of good archive or collection management is understanding why your documents or items are valuable. Various factors play a role in valuation to a greater or lesser degree.
In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What is a valuation?
  • Why is it important to determine the value of your documents or items?
  • What possible value can items from your archive or collection have?
  • How do you carry out a valuation?
Valuation entails checking the value of a particular document, dossier, object or series of archive items. The process of choosing whether to store or destroy this item, and then implementing this decision, is called ‘selection’. In order to make a good selection of documents and objects, you first need to know their value and significance.
Sandra Fauconnier, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Documents and objects can have:

  • practical use or value
  • administrative value
  • legal value
  • cultural and historical value
  • heritage value
  • value as a promotional tool
  • emotional value
  • symbolic value
  • aesthetic value
  • economic value
  • artistic value

The points below can help you determine the value of (parts of) your archive and collections, and decide whether you want to store something (permanently) or not.

How do you determine the value?

Answer the following questions:

  • Do these documents or objects protect the legal rights of your organisation, its employees or legal successors?
  • Would losing the document or object make it difficult to represent your work correctly? In other words, does it have any historical value for you or your organisation?
  • Does the document or object have emotional value for you or your organisation?

If the answer to one or more of these questions is ‘yes’, the document or object qualifies for temporary or permanent storage. You can find an indicative list of such documents or objects below.

What qualifies for permanent preservation?

  • Documents or objects that represent the organisation’s creation, objectives and working methods (such as reports from the board of directors);
  • Documents or objects that protect your organisation’s legal rights, its employees or inheritors (such as a rental agreement for the building or employment details with regard to pension rights, etc);
  • Documents and objects that are significant for representing your artistic work correctly;
  • Documents and objects that outline the organisation’s activities (such as policy plans);
  • Documents and objects produced and saved by the organisation, which are essentially the reason for its existence (such as production records).

What qualifies for permanent destruction?

  • Documents with expired legal retention periods;
  • All documents and objects with low administrative, legal, artistic or scientific value, which lose their practical importance almost immediately (such as unsolicited offers from suppliers, invitations to meetings, printing proofs, etc);
  • Documents that may be stored elsewhere. Professional journals, for example, are preserved by (heritage) libraries and/or the organisation that published them.

Note: some documents or files are available in both physical and digital form. Read how to handle this in the section Physical storage.

Selection lists as inspiration

The selection lists below, produced specifically for arts organisations, may well inspire you.

Organisations with a non-profit organisation structure, self-employed people and private limited liability companies are all obliged to comply with legal retention periods. You can find a summary list of retention periods on the Flemish government website.

Note: do not adopt this list blindly – use your common sense. You need to decide for yourself whether documents or objects have any artistic or cultural and historical value in addition to any legal or administrative value.

Contact a heritage organisation

If you are wondering whether to destroy certain documents and/or objects or store them permanently, please contact a heritage organisation. They can provide advice and help you look for other parties that may be interested in (certain parts of) your archive and/or collections (e.g. your book collection).

Make a note of what you destroy

Finally, when destroying (parts of) your archive and collections, it’s important to keep an overview (with accountability) of the documents and objects in question. This means you can check at a later date whether a particular document or object, which you cannot find, has been destroyed intentionally or is simply missing. It’s also important to agree who is ultimately responsible for every decision to destroy archive and collection items.

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