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Archives, Public Records, and Records Management - Importance of Archival Materials and Archival Institutions, Archival Management, Appraisal, Accessioning, Arrangement and Description, Preservation, Access

information archivists collections value

Archives have existed since ancient times. According to James O’Toole (1990), the term “archives” was originally used to “designate all collections of written records” (p. 28). In the modern world, however, the word “archives” is commonly used in three different senses. First, archives are documents that are created or accumulated by an individual or an organization in the normal course of business. Second, archives are the independent agencies or programs within institutions that are responsible for selecting, preserving, and providing access to archival documents. Finally, archives are the buildings or repositories that house collections of archival documents.

To understand the nature of archival documents in the first sense of the word, it is helpful to make a distinction between records and archives. Records are all information, regardless of format, that is produced or accumulated in the normal course of affairs by an individual or an organization and is maintained in order to provide evidence of specific transactions. Archives are those records that are deemed to have continuing value and are therefore retained beyond the period in which they are actively used. (The archives of individuals are sometimes referred to as “personal papers” or “manuscripts.”) Thus, archives constitute a smaller portion of the entire documentary universe than do records.

Like records, archives can exist in any format on which information has been recorded. Archival collections frequently consist of a wide variety of media. In addition to traditional textual materials, archivists care for materials such as photographs, films, videotapes, sound recordings, and magnetic tapes and disks. The many issues posed by archival materials recorded in electronic format are among the greatest challenges facing the archival profession.

Archival materials, like library materials, are important cultural resources. Several characteristics, however, distinguish the types of materials generally held in library collections from those found in archival collections. Alternate copies of the materials housed in a given library can often be found in the collections of other libraries. Archival materials, in contrast, are often unique and are found only in a single repository. Sue McKemmish (1993) provides an overview of the key distinctions between library and archival materials. She describes the materials held in libraries as information products, which have been consciously authored for dissemination or publication “to inform, perpetuate knowledge, convey ideas, feelings, and opinions; to entertain, [and] to provide information about their subject” (p. 7). She characterizes materials found in archives, on the other hand, as information by-products of activity, which are accumulated or created in the course of doing business in order to facilitate the business process of which they are a part. McKemmish further notes that while library materials are often discrete items, archival materials are usually part of a larger group of related records.

Importance of Archival Materials and Archival Institutions

Archival institutions select, preserve, and make their records accessible for a number of reasons, including legal, financial, and administrative purposes. Government archives (at the federal, state or local level) that administer public records, for example, maintain records as evidence of the government’s policies and operations. Thus, public archives help ensure that the government is held accountable to the public by preserving records that enable citizens to monitor the conduct of government agencies and public servants. In addition, the records that are held by public archives document the rights of citizens, such as entitlement to social security benefits or ownership of property. Private organizations, such as businesses, churches, universities, and museums, also establish institutional archives to care for their records. The archival records that are maintained by these repositories document the organizations’ origins, structures, policies, programs, functions, and vital information over time.

In addition to the legal, fiscal, and administrative purposes for which records are originally created and used, archival records are useful for historical or research purposes. Archives provide a key with which to examine past and present events. In addition to the administrative users of archives, a variety of researchers take advantage of archival sources. These researchers may include scholars, genealogists, students at all levels, local historians, biographers, independent writers, and documentary filmmakers. Since archival documents can be used for many purposes by diverse audiences, the records of organizations that do not have their own institutional archives, as well as the personal papers of individuals, are often actively sought by archival programs such as collecting repositories or historical societies. These types of institutions, rather than documenting the activities of a parent organization, focus on collecting records that document a particular topic (e.g., a person, subject, or geographical area).

Archival Management

The management of archival materials can be roughly categorized into the following functions: appraisal, accessioning, arrangement, description, preservation, access, outreach, and advocacy. Although these functions will be discussed separately here, in practice they overlap, since the decisions that are made at each stage necessarily affect management of the materials in other stages.

Appraisal

The initial step in the management of archival materials is appraisal, in which the archivist makes a judgement as to whether particular records should be acquired by the archival repository. Appraisal is the process of determining the value, and thus the disposition, of records. During this process, decisions are made about whether and for how long records should be preserved based on criteria such as their current administrative, legal, and fiscal use, their evidential and informational value, their arrangement and condition, their intrinsic value, and their relationship to other records. Archivists often use the terms “appraisal” and “selection” interchangeably to describe this process. It is important to note that when used in the archival context, appraisal does not have anything to do with monetary value.

The Society of American Archivists’ Task Force on Goals and Priorities (1986) emphasizes that an archivist’s first responsibility is the selection of records that have enduring value. The other responsibilities of an archivist depend on wise selections being made at this stage. Despite the centrality of this function to archival management, archivists continue to debate the role of the archivist in appraisal and the best criteria on which to base appraisal decisions. Archivists have adopted various criteria for appraisal based on the value of the records, the use to which the records might be put in the future, the policy of the archival repository, and the goal of creating an image of the institution or the society to which the records pertain.

The writings of Theodore Shellenberg (1949, 1956) with regard to appraisal represent a codification of appraisal practice at the National Archives, and they designate various types of values that are found in records as the basis for selection decisions. Shellenberg postulated that records possess primary values that are related to the purposes for which they were originally created (e.g., administrative, legal, fiscal, research, or historical). In addition, records have secondary value when they are used for any purpose other than that for which they were originally created. This secondary value may be informational (i.e., related directly to the data found in the records) or evidential (i.e., related to the degree to which the records reflect an organization’s functions and policies over time).

The potential use to which archival materials may be put has also been advanced as a criterion on which to base, and test, appraisal decisions. The application of this criterion is particularly problematic, however, because it requires the archivist to become a soothsayer, predicting the research needs of the future users of archives. Nonetheless, use has been accepted by many archivists as a strong qualifier for the selection and appraisal of records.

During the 1980s, a new approach to the appraisal of archival materials began to emerge. Drawing on the library literature about collection management, archivists began to argue that selection decisions should be made within the context of a clearly defined collecting policy. While, in practice, many archival repositories had been guided in their appraisal choices by institutional policy for some time, Faye Phillips’s 1984 article “Developing Collecting Policies for Manuscript Collections” provided a detailed model policy that different types of archives could adapt to their needs.

Subsequent discussions of appraisal in the archival literature have focused on documentation strategies, institutional functional analysis, and macro-appraisal. Collectively, these approaches adopt a “top down” rather than a “bottom up” orientation to appraisal. More traditional approaches, based on value, use, and policy, have focused on records themselves. Advocates of the emerging methods of appraisal argue that careful research and analysis of the records creators and the records creating processes should precede the examination or appraisal of any actual records. By approaching appraisal in this manner, archivists can identify the most important records creators and records producing functions within an organization, thereby placing themselves in a better position to create a more complete image of the institution or society that is being documented.

Accessioning

Once archives make the decision to acquire a collection of records, the next step in the management process is for the archival institution to accession the records. Accessioning is the procedure through which an archival repository takes administrative, legal, and physical custody of a group of records. The means by which archives acquire administrative and legal control of records is slightly different for institutional archival programs than it is for collection repositories. Within institutional archives, records are generally transferred by means of a transmittal form, in which the office that created the records grants custody to the archival program of the same institution. For collecting repositories, which acquire records not from a parent organization but from private donors or external institutions, a deed of gift is the primary instrument by which the archives gain legal and administrative control over the records.

During accessioning, the archivist collects basic information about the records on the basis of a preliminary examination. Generally, an accession form is created, which includes data such as the creator of the records, the quantity, condition, and current location of the records, any restrictions on the records, a list of contents and brief descriptions of the records. The information that is gathered during the accessioning process provides essential information about the newly acquired records and later serves as the basis for the arrangement and description functions.

Arrangement and Description

The arrangement and description of archives serve the dual functions of preserving records and making them available for use. Collectively, arrangement and description are often referred to as the “processing” of archival collections. Fredric Miller (1990) notes that “[by] making possible the use of records, processing gives meaning to their acquisition and preservation. At the same time, processing is the key method by which archivists control and administer the records in their custody” (p. 3). In the arrangement of archival records, archivists organize and order their collections, thereby bringing archives under physical control. In the description of archival collections, archivists bring together information that provides a context for the records, thereby bringing them under intellectual control.

The arrangement of archival collections is governed by two key concepts: provenance and original order. According to the principle of provenance, which emerged from nineteenth-century European archival practice, records are maintained according to their creator or source, rather than by subject or classification systems. Records produced by different creators are not intermingled, even though they might share a common subject. The second important concept for archival arrangement, original order, holds that whenever possible, records should be maintained according to the filing structures that were used by their creators. In some cases, however, records come to archives in such a state of disorganization that to maintain them in their original order would be a detriment to subsequent use. In these cases, the archivist may choose to arrange the records in a logical way (e.g., alphabetically, chronologically, or topically) in order to facilitate access. By arranging archival collections according to the principles of provenance and original order, archivists maintain important contextual information about how the materials were initially created and used.

Archival materials can be arranged (and subsequently described) at a variety of levels. Ranging from the broadest to the most specific, these levels include the following: the repository, the record group or collection, the series, the file unit, and the item. Professional practice holds that archives should gain physical and intellectual control over all of the records at a broad level before proceeding to progressively refined, more specific, levels of arrangement and description.

Unlike library materials, which are generally cataloged at the item level, collective description of groups of records is the norm for archival description. Collective description emerged in the organization of archival materials for practical as well as intellectual reasons. Many archival collections are quite large, composed of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of items. To create individual records for each item in these collections would be an overwhelming, if not an impossible, task. Moreover, archival documents can generally be used more effectively in the aggregate, since the value of an archival record is often enhanced by the relationships that connect it to other records within the collection. There are, of course, situations in which an individual item (e.g., the Declaration of Independence) possesses an intrinsic value and therefore merits description at the item level, but these cases are the exception rather than the rule.

Archives produce a variety of information surrogates to represent their holdings. These surrogates range from guides to the collections of several institutions in an area, to guides to the holdings of a single institution, to guides to a particular subject area, to inventories of specific collections, to brief catalog records. The primary descriptive tool that is produced by most archives is the inventory, or finding aid, which provides a detailed, narrative account for a collection of records that is held by a repository. Finding aids typically consist of two types of information: explanatory notes and an inventory. The description of the records might include the creator, the dates covered by the records, the quantity of the records, the title for the collection or series, the location of the records, the restrictions to access of the records, the information about the arrangement of the records, a narrative account of the records creator, information about the contents, and information that notes the existence of related materials. The inventory portion of a finding aid includes a brief list of the contents of each container, file, volume, or item, depending upon the level to which the collection is processed.

Since archival materials are so diverse, archival institutions have not been able to take advantage of standards for the exchange of information about their holdings in the same way that libraries have. However, the archival profession has begun to explore more standardized methods by which archival programs can exchange information with other archives and with other cultural institutions. There have been two promising advances in this area. The first was the development in the 1980s of an archival format for Machine Readable Cataloging (MARC), by which archivists can enter brief descriptions of their collections into national bibliographic utilities. The second, Encoded Archival Description (EAD), was introduced in 1993 and has slowly begun to be accepted by the archival community. EAD defines common elements that are found in finding aids and prescribes an order in which they should appear. It designates a few elements that are required for providing a minimally acceptable level of information about a collection, but it is flexible enough to be applied in a wide variety of archival settings. Since EAD is still in its infancy, relatively speaking, its long-term effect on archival description remains to be seen.

Preservation

Records on all forms of media located in archives need protection in order to minimize the wear and tear that are inherent in handling, copying, loaning, and exhibiting them. Preservation refers to the management activities that are associated with maintaining materials in their original form or other format. Preservation of archival materials encompasses a number of technical and administrative processes that should be comprehensive and integrated within the overall archival program. Archivists are concerned with a number of preservation issues, including the following:

  • environment (i.e., temperature, relative humidity, light, dust, mold, pests, and gases),
  • storage space,
  • disaster preparedness (i.e., preparing contingency plans for use in case of fire, flood, storms, and other natural or man-made disasters),
  • assessing the scope and nature of deterioration and damage to records (i.e., brittle paper and/or technological obsolescence), and
  • use (i.e., establishing policies about the use of holdings by patrons and staff and about the public display of holdings).

A well thought out archival preservation program would consist of installing equipment to monitor and stabilize environmental conditions, maintaining the physical facilities routinely, enforcing security procedures for staff, patrons and others, and implementing routine holdings maintenance actions, including removing or replacing damaged or deteriorated items.

Access

If people are to use archives, then they must have intellectual, legal, and physical access to them. The term “access” encompasses all three concepts. Intellectual access is provided through the arrangement and description of records and reference assistance from an archivist. Archivists create and rely on finding aids as reference tools to assist users. Finding aids help users locate needed records and information.

Access is also related to whether or not users have permission or authority to use archives. Records created and maintained for personal or internal use may include private or confidential information. Archivists are legally and ethically bound to ensure equitable access to records that are in their care. Maintaining fair use, however, is a problem because archivists have to deal with such issues as privacy, confidentiality, copyright, preservation, and freedom of information.

Repositories provide physical access by maintaining standard operating hours that allow users to visit the archives to study and copy records for private or educational purposes. The World Wide Web, however, has redefined physical access to records. Repositories are making many of their records available online. Thus, users can access finding aids and records from their personal computers. Users have the opportunity to examine finding aids and to exchange e-mail messages with reference archivists before deciding if a visit to the actual archives is necessary.

Outreach and Advocacy

Outreach and advocacy represent the culmination of archival work. Archivists use advocacy and outreach to help the general public understand archives and build support for archival programs. Outreach is any effort to generate or gain public interest in the archives through a variety of mechanisms such as lecture and film series, fundraisers, brochures, media coverage, exhibits, and publications. Advocacy builds on outreach. It involves archivists, records professionals, and manuscript curators engaging in activities, such as lobbying on behalf of specific legislation or influencing public policy, that affect some aspect of archives or records. Outreach and advocacy are crucial functions because archivists have to vie with other information providers and because technological changes have transformed delivery methods for archives and historical records.

Conclusion

Archives are vital to society for many reasons. Among the most important functions that archival records fulfill is that they serve as instruments of accountability and as building blocks of collective memory. John McDonald (1998) succinctly expresses the relationship between records and accountability as follows: “Without records, there can be no demonstration of accountability. Without evidence of accountability, society cannot trust in its public institutions.” In addition to providing for accountability, archival collections constitute an important part of society’s cultural and intellectual heritage, thereby contributing to the formation of a nation’s collective memory. To ensure the preservation of this valuable legacy and to provide for democratic accountability, archivists and records managers (including public records officers) from diverse organizations must work together to administer the records that they hold in trust for future generations.

Archivists [next] [back] Architecture of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties - STANDARDIZATION AND NEW LOCATIONS., THE PYRAMID COMPLEX OF USERKAF AT SAQQARA.

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about 5 years ago

i want to know in deep the importances of archival description

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over 5 years ago

Please can you help me to explain how business organization archives can be useful today.I am a second year student of Records and Archives Management at the University of Mzumbe Morogoro, Tanzania.

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over 6 years ago

why is it important for the achives and records manager to understand the importance of records and achives management in organizations

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over 6 years ago

pls can you send me the differences between Archives, Libraries and Museum, based on their Materials, Functions and Users.

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about 5 years ago

iam a student doing archaeology,cultural heritage and museum studies at Midlands state university.Currently iam in second year but i have an interest in records keeping iam looking for an attachment which iam ready to commence next year in January.you contyribution toward this will be greatly appreciated.

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over 6 years ago

why the infomation meaning of records management,a importance,and gives infomation about all about record management.

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over 4 years ago

Archives & Records management is an interesting field indeed. It has 2 divisions; archives administration and Records management. More often than not, we tend to concentrate more on the latter and give little attention to the former. We should be mindful of the fact that organizations produce records whilst in operation. Frequent access/references of these records make them attract a term "active records". As their access lowers they become "inactive records". It's here that archives administration come into play. These are then appraised to see if they are of any value for future use. Different values are considered, some being legal, fiscal, evidential/informational, historical, administrative etc. The latter stage is considered critical and an archivist MUST consult as wide as possible before engaging in the exercise.

Chris

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about 5 years ago

Dd you know that there is a difference between Archives & Records management and Library & Information studies?

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almost 6 years ago

need envirmental law.

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over 5 years ago

I like records management and archives administration. Iam a fourth year student of Library and Information studies at the university of Zambia

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over 6 years ago

if somebody want to use diploma in library science for directry entry,what are the requirement in ssce or gce

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over 4 years ago

i want to know what the extent and level of use of the materials

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over 4 years ago

please,could you help me to differentiate a library with an institution mandated with the management of archives?

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over 5 years ago

Your page is really educative got exactly what i needed.thanks

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over 5 years ago

In an assigmnet that reads:"preservation of archives is the means by which the survival of selected material is ensured for enduring access" what is it really that the student has to basically focus on?

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over 5 years ago

I like records management and archives administration. Iam a fourth year student of Library and Information studies at the university of Zambia

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about 6 years ago

it is so educative an it is my wish to have more detailed information concerning records and archives

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over 6 years ago

why the infomation meaning of records management,a importance,and gives infomation about all about record management.

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about 4 years ago

Please, I need detailed explanations on how to use computer technology in managing archival records.

Thank you very much for your anticipated assistance.

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about 5 years ago

importance of records preservation

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about 5 years ago

i want to know in deep the importances of archival description

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about 5 years ago

I'm writing a diploma on "Problems of examination of archival documents" in connection with the request to help with the selection of materials from sources in the U.S., UK, Japan, and China. I will be very grateful for any information on the subject sent me ajd2010@yandex.ru

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about 6 years ago

thank you so much for this information l am begining to get intersted records though the challenges l am facing is acessing books in our country about records in zimbabwe .

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over 4 years ago

please can you help to describe the process of collection and acquisition of archival materials.i am first year(diploma)student at Tanzania public service college.

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over 5 years ago

i just wanna know why does archived important in studying history!!!! not this lot words yayks someone help me pls........

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almost 5 years ago

your materials are very interested but for sure I did not found the question state that,how the study of history contributes toward the molding of a responsible Tanzanian citizen,I will thank you if I will find it in my email,thanks a lot.

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over 3 years ago

i study certificate in archives managment records,n i sem to lyk it .its a vety differend cause,that not all know about

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about 5 years ago

continue educating the world

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about 5 years ago

hi I read your paper and found it very interesting. please my problem is that the sources you consulted as your references were not there. could you please send them to me through my mail or you include it in the paper for other people that may like it as well. thanks

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about 5 years ago

An interesting observation: am a 4th year student at the university of Botswana reading for Bachelor of Arts in Library science & History. Students reading for a single minor in Library studies are becoming interested in Records management courses, claiming that some courses in the latter program could have been incorporated in Library science program... What's your view on this?

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about 5 years ago

The literature is informative. It's time that Archives & Records Management is appreciated the world-over. The only available situations allows theorising the profession rather than implementing such to prove that indeed change can be made.



Chris



Records Manager without borders. Botswana, Chobe District

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2 months ago

I real enjoyed using this site. thank you

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7 months ago

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about 1 year ago

THE ROLE OF ARCHIVES AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT IS GROWING IN DIFFERENT ORGANISATIOMS...joseph kahuti is doing archives and records management at institute of development management at Notswana

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about 2 years ago

need to know how to critique the view that archivists and records managers should work together

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almost 3 years ago

i would like to appreciate for the above information is all what i was looking for think you very much.

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over 3 years ago

Thank you for educating me and the rest.

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over 3 years ago

Thank you for educating me and the rest.

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over 3 years ago

Thank you for educating me and the rest.

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almost 4 years ago

Good morning,
i have some question that need your expertise. thank you for your assistance.
1. What is the difference between a library and an institution mandated with the management of archives?

2. What is the purpose of redaction in a judicial environment?

3. Why is it necessary to redact the audio-visual recordings of the trial proceedings of the Court?

4. What is the significance of file compression in determining if an audio-visual file format is suitable for archival purposes?

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almost 4 years ago

who is the author of this document

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over 4 years ago

i want to know how the archival material is being advertised

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over 4 years ago

i want to know how the archival material is being advertised

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over 4 years ago

i want to know how the archival material is being advertised

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over 4 years ago

i want to know how the archival material is being advertised

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over 4 years ago

spam

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over 4 years ago

Iwant to know what will happen if record and archives were no managed?

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over 4 years ago

Iwant to know what will happen if record and archives were no managed?

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over 4 years ago

Issues relating to Records, Archives and Manuscripts are emerging, while we all have very few literature in this area.
As a graduate of Library and Information Science, I am interested in this are so as to lend my intellect in projecting this especially in Nigeria, I therefore wish to be linked up with any foreign university offering online post-graduate pI will be awaiting your recommendations

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almost 5 years ago

your materials are very interested but for sure I did not found the question state that,how the study of history contributes toward the molding of a responsible Tanzanian citizen,I will thank you if I will find it in my email,thanks a lot.

Vote down Vote up

almost 5 years ago

your materials are very interested but for sure I did not found the question state that,how the study of history contributes toward the molding of a responsible Tanzanian citizen,I will thank you if I will find it in my email,thanks a lot.

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about 5 years ago

can you please send me full notes on the structure of a finding aid.

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about 5 years ago

pliz explain to me the neccessity of preservation of records and archives materials