Archives Appraisal Policy at the History Centre

1. Introduction and background

Surrey History Centre cares for and makes publicly accessible the historic archive and local studies collections relating to the County of Surrey. The Centre was established in 1998 by Surrey County Council to hold and develop the collections formerly housed in Surrey Record Office, Kingston, Guildford Muniment Room and Surrey Local Studies Library. In 2006 it became part of Surrey Heritage.

The Centre is recognised as a place of deposit for public records relating to the County of Surrey and is appointed the diocesan record office for the diocese of Guildford and much of the diocese of Southwark.

Millions of documents dating from the 12th to the 21st centuries are stored in our strongrooms. They are appraised, sorted, catalogued and indexed to facilitate access, given conservation treatment where necessary and stored in the optimum environment for their long term preservation.

The archival holdings are unique and irreplaceable, generally being the original and only record in existence and their value lies in their being retained in their original form as far as possible. They are primary source material and maintaining their integrity is vital to their legal evidential and historical value.

2. Scope and purpose

2.1. The processing and long term preservation of archives require significant resources and it is essential that only those records of enduring historical or legal value are selected for permanent preservation. Appraisal is necessary to facilitate the control and proper management of the enormous quantity of modern records generated by the County Council and other bodies within the county and to ensure that only the most useful and relevant records are retained in perpetuity.

2.2. The demands made by the selection and preservation of born-digital records make logical, cost-effective and considered appraisal all the more vital

2.3. This policy is one of several existing policies relating to different elements of the care and management of the collections in the keeping of Surrey History Centre. The aim of the policies collectively is to ensure that the collections are properly managed and preserved, and are made available in the most appropriate manner to ensure their long-term survival and usability.

2.4. This policy should be read in conjunction with the Collections Management Policy which sets out the Centre's integrated approach to the management of its collections and the framework of standards and code of ethics within which it operates.

3. Criteria for preservation

3.1. Records are selected for preservation because they conform to section1.2 of the 'Collecting Policy' which states that 'The Centre's primary function is to collect, preserve and make available to researchers, documents and printed and photographic material which relate to or illustrate the administration and historical development of the county and the activities of institutions, organisations and individuals within it'.

3.2. It is our duty to ensure that our archive collections are representative of and reflect the historic diversity of the county and to endeavour to remedy deficiencies in the current range of our holdings as stated in section 3.2 of the collecting policy: 'for organisations or sectors of society currently underrepresented in our collections, we will endeavour to initiate a programme of
surveys to identify records which will broaden the scope and range of our collections. In particular we will endeavour to ensure that the experiences of minority ethnic or marginalised groups within the county are reflected and preserved in our holdings'.

3.3. Within these broad parameters, the value of records is to be assessed in conformity with Appendix 2 of The National Archives' 'Appraisal Policy' (2004) which distinguishes between the 'primary' value of records to an organisation (business value) and their 'secondary' value to society, providing a resource for historical research to a wide range of future users (archival value).

3.4. The aims of archival appraisal are to identify those records of the highest archival value, namely:

  • records 'most capable of documenting change, continuity and development over time and of assisting historical interpretation of such changes'.
  • records which have the highest concentrated informational value in documenting the development over time and primary functions of organisations within the county as a whole.

3.5. The archival value of records should be appraised in the light of the quality of the information they contain relating to significant national or local events or trends in political, social, legal, economic, demographic and cultural history; their significance in documenting scientific, technological or medical research and development; or the illumination they provide on the career of a
notable person.

3.6. Appraisers should also bear in mind the visual impact of some ostensibly ephemeral records and their potential use in audience development and outreach activities

3.7. The emphasis of appraisal will be on justifying decisions to keep, not on justifying decisions to destroy.

4. Methods of appraisal

4.1. Where practicable, archival value will largely be assessed through macro appraisal at series level based on functional analysis of an organisation.

4.2. This will be implemented through liaison with record management staff within Surrey County Council and within depositing organisations to ensure that Surrey History Centre's appraisal decisions are embedded in the retention schedules and records management processes of such organisations.

4.3. Records which capture and summarise key data will generally be preferred to records generated at preliminary stages in the generation of a decision of implementation of a process (for example audited annual accounts will be selected in preference to preliminary lower level financial records relating to individual transactions).

4.4. Whilst some series may be retained in their entirety other series may be the subject of selective, structured or random sampling. To maximise the opportunities for records linkages, where appropriate, sampling will take into account census years or other significant classes of records.

4.5. Where macro-appraisal is not practicable, the archival value of records will generally be determined at file level; only in exceptional circumstances will appraisal be carried out at a level lower than this. However it is recognised that with the papers of private individuals appraisal at piece level may be necessary.

4.6. It is essential that all appraisal is in accordance with legal requirements governing the retention of records and staff will be trained in the scope of relevant legislation.

4.7. Appraisal will be carried out in accordance with in-house or national guidelines where such exist and efforts will be made to identify and disseminate authoritative guidelines to professional staff (see Appendix 1).

5. Procedures for appraisal

5.1. Archive appraisal will be carried out by professionally qualified archivists or under the supervision of an archivist.

5.2. In accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, appraisal decisions will be properly documented and a record placed on the relevant deposit file and, if appropriate, recorded in the catalogue.

5.3. All material which has not been selected for permanent preservation will be disposed of appropriately. This may involve it being offered back to the depositor or being disposed of as confidential waste.

6. Digital records

6.1. With the growth of digital technology and the widespread adoption of digital record keeping it is essential that appraisal of the long term value of records is implemented as early in the lifecycle of a record as possible and preferably at creation of the record.

6.2. Given that migration to a readable format and retrospective appraisal of obsolete born-digital records can be extremely time-consuming and costly, such migration will only be attempted where there is a strong likelihood of information of vital significance being salvaged.

7. Date of publication and review

7.1. This policy was first published in June 2010. It was revised in March 2017 and reviewed in September 2020. It will be reviewed every three years.

Appendix 1: National And Local Guidelines And Retention Schedules


The National Archives Appraisal guidelines and advice

Records of Local Government

  • Retention Guidelines for Local Authorities (Records Management Society of Great Britain)
  • Retention Guidelines for Schools (Records Management Society of Great Britain)
  • Specimen Retention Schedule for Information Received or Created by Local Authorities (Keith Batchelor)
  • Surrey County Council Departmental Retention Schedules (published on intranet)
  • Surrey History Centre guidelines for retention of coroner's records
  • Surrey History Centre guidelines for retention of local authority rate books
  • Bedfordshire Record Office guidelines for appraisal of planning control records

Church of England

Church of England Record Centre records management guides

  • Keep or Bin? The Care of your Parish Records (Church of England Record Centre)
  • Save or Delete? The Care of Diocesan Records (Church of England Record Centre)
  • Cherish or Chuck? The Care of Episcopal Records (Church of England Record Centre)
  • Chapter and Verse. The Care of Cathedral Records (Church of England Record Centre)

Hospital and Health Authorities

Records Management Code of Practice for Health and Social Care 2016

Magistrates Courts

Magistrates' Courts Record Retention Schedule (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

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