To keep or not to keep? Records appraisal and moving house

So, last weekend I moved house. The word ‘stressful’ just doesn’t do it enough justice…

Anyone who has moved house will understand that when it comes to the logistics, size really does matter. Because my new home is smaller than the last, I had to ‘appraise’ my belongings to determine their value, and dispose of items accordingly.

As I sat there on a dusty floor with a bin bag, I realised that my home and working lives had suddenly collided…

The process of knowing what you have and how valuable it may be is fundamental to Information Management. Records ‘appraisal’ is a core part keeping an organisation running efficiently – without knowing what value your records hold, useless stuff will clog up your cupboards and servers, whilst useful information remains inaccessible and unexploited.

How did I know what to keep ahead of the big move? Today’s blog is about the types of value Government records and my ‘stuff’ at home may have in common:

Operational value: Can I dispose of my Christmas tree?

Oliver Cromwell’s plan to ban Christmas in 1650. What value does it have now? (Catalogue ref SP 25/15)

Oliver Cromwell’s plan to ban Christmas in 1650. What value does it have now? (Catalogue ref SP 25/15)

What information does your organisation need to run its business? You should be able to understand the functions of your organisation, and then map which types of information you receive or create to meet your business requirements. By doing this you can ensure that key pieces of data are backed up, disaster recovery plans are up to date, and your storage costs are kept to a minimum.

Naturally the value of the Christmas tree peaks somewhere around December… In terms of my business requirements though: I know that Christmas comes every year; I know that I celebrate by decorating the lounge; and I know the tree forms the centre piece for gathering presents. It is referenced infrequently throughout the year, so it can be stored in the attic, but it certainly retains its value until it needs replacing.

Financial value: Can I dispose of my electronics like the TV, laptop or PlayStation?

Just like your IT hardware, furniture, or estate, your information may hold financial value. Organisations go to great lengths to gather, analyse and store information in order to make better decisions and run more efficiently. Therefore understanding its financial value will help you manage and protect it.

Electrical goods are generally expensive to purchase, and would be to replace. Knowing their financial value helps me to define how to manage them, i.e. how secure the house needs to be, the temperature and conditions in which they are kept, and so on. When you ‘appraise’ it is also important to understand dependencies – for example, if I disposed of the TV, how would I use the PlayStation?

Legal value: Can I dispose of my old tenancy agreement?

Understanding the legislative context within which your organisation operates is crucial, as it will often provide a framework for how long to keep certain categories of records. It may also be that an organisation would find it difficult to justify itself under legal challenge in the absence of records. Therefore things like contracts, agreements or establishment orders will need to be considered as having legal value, but may also be retained longer for secondary research purposes.

Now that I’ve moved house my old tenancy agreement and inventory no longer apply and therefore will lose their legal value. However it’s important to keep until disputes over my rental deposit are resolved, as it’s a formal agreement over the obligations of both landlord and tenant. Who knew that marks on the wall and a couple of lightbulbs could be so expensive…?

Historical value: Can I dispose of my very first pair of shoes?

In 100 years time, what will researchers need to know about your organisation? Government records of enduring historical value are likely to cover core functions of departments, policies and decision making, and shed light on the state’s interaction with the lives of its citizens and environment. Think about the secondary value of records which may provide evidence of the role fulfilled by your organisation, or provide information on key subjects, events or places.

Whilst clearing the cupboard I found my first pair of shoes. They are no longer of operational value – my feet have grown a little since I was a toddler – but they hold a sentimental value to me now. They may also provide a snapshot of children’s fashion of the 1980s. Therefore they are likely to retain value even if I no longer use or refer to them frequently.

 

You may be wondering what I didn’t want to keep – well, amongst other things I found that three frozen chicken goujons, a pair of burnt orange jeans, and a copy of the film ‘Van Helsing’ on DVD certainly didn’t hold any kind of value…

But hopefully this has been an introduction into why appraisal is important, and how the value of your records may differ. Remember that the value and purpose of your information changes over time and that this will ultimately need to define how you manage it, especially in digital form.

So, three questions you should ask yourself: 1. Do you know what information your organisation holds; 2. Is the value of the information documented; and 3. Does anyone want a copy of ‘Van Helsing’ on DVD?

6 comments

  1. David Matthew says:

    Rob,

    I quite agree, the decision by the BBC to destroy the Dr Who masters because they thought they had copies (which they didn’t) and they almost destroyed the first Daleks story! until some who asked if the masters were there or the Registrar General who thought that the census records were only of use to family historians, then in its infancy, could be destroyed.

    Appraisal is a key part of a governmental (or local authority) record’s life, because there was no need to keep a file for administrative reasons there may be historical reasons like the appointment of the first woman as Chief Executive of TNA and from outside TNA and in particular of abandoned plans which might need to be considered again or were historical, eg the independence for the Bnak of England in 1979, eighteen years before it happened. This is the role of the First Review system established by Grigg to ensure administrative use of records are the first consideration and the historical use is also considered and determined at the Second Review, this second process has now disappeared with the 20-year rule. I would argue that TNA needs to keep its records on the office’s forced closure on health grounds in 1984 and the transfer of records. Who would expect that the UK would be at war with Argentina over the Falkland Islands and should we keep records on the island’s sovereignty (the records of course shoud be).

    The issue of out-dated technology is an issue which will continue with computer-based records, there is of course no issue with paper records.

    1. Rodney Breen says:

      Years after the Dr Who disaster, the BBC nearly repeated the experience. When I worked there, years ago, they planned to dispose of large amounts of programme files for which they no longer had the original video or film. This was to save the cost of storage. Included in this were the programme files for Dr Who for which the film had been wiped. However, since I had emphasised to the clerical staff that some files should be kept because they were important programmes, one refused to obey the order and kept the Dr Who files on his desk. Eventually some film turned up and BBC Enterprises called to order up the files. Since they still existed a lot of money was saved by not having to renegotiate contracts etc. They thanked the relevant clerk by making him redundant shortly after …

  2. Tiger Shamanges says:

    A very logical way to look at the value of your “stuff” :)

    I find it incredibly hard to throw things out and would probably end up transferring all my junk from my old house into my new one. So you got rid of Van Helsing DVD? You probably already had it on bluray though… 😉

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    1. Rob Johnson says:

      I absolutely know what you mean – throwing things away can be difficult, but it is certainly necessary as part of good information management. Extra storage can seem like the easy option, but remember that paying for ‘digital space’ or archive services can be just as costly as shelving units. It also doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for even if you’ve kept it.

      My DVD collection went through a ‘cull’ before the move, being categorised into: 1. Groundbreaking films that changed my life; 2. Good films I enjoy watching; 3. Okay films I would watch as a last resort; and 4. Terrible films that I never want to see again. You can probably guess which category ‘Van Helsing’ fell into. (I don’t think you could pay me to watch it on Blu-Ray…)

  3. Sarah Green says:

    Great article Rob!

    When I’m ready to get rid of some stuff I usually separate into piles of:

    1. Pile to keep
    2. Pile to throw away
    3. Pile to donate
    4. Pile to keep and pack away and never look at ever again (sentimental things)

    Pile 4 could also be called ‘stuff Mom is making me hold onto’ haha

    Sarah
    Removalists Brisbane

  4. Removals Dublin says:

    This is a very common problem people have when moving house. It can be very easy to bring a lot of clutter or junk with you when moving house.

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