Acquisition of archival records

The Public Records Office (PRO) of Government Records Service (GRS), as the designated government archive, identifies and preserves records of archival value and makes them available for public use over time. We acquire our holdings through records appraisal of Government records, private records and personal papers, and purchases from overseas archives.

What is appraisal?

Records appraisal

Records appraisal is the process of evaluating the archival values of records to determine what records will be kept permanently and what records can be disposed. Records appraised as having archival value should be transferred to PRO for permanent retention. Only those records confirmed to be of no archival value will be approved by the GRS Director for destruction.

Why need appraisal?

Appraisal is one of the core functions of PRO with the following objectives:

To facilitate effective and efficient records management in the Government: Records no longer needed should be disposed of in a systematic and timely manner to avoid unnecessary management, storage and maintenance costs. Records appraisal determines which records should be retained permanently for their archival value. Disposal of records without archival values enhances efficiency and effectiveness in records retrieval, access and overall management activities.

To provide a systematic and consistent approach for the identification and transfer of records with enduring value to PRO: To avoid arbitrary records disposal decision or action, all government records must be appraised by PRO with consistent appraisal principle and criteria. Those records identified with archival value should be transferred to PRO for permanent preservation though the Archivists of PRO may advise or agree to preserve certain records in designated places as appropriate.

To enhance the accountability and transparency of the Government: Records documenting government deliberations, formulation and implementation of significant policies, decisions, and business processes are selected through records appraisal. The authority, legitimacy and legality of the government activities and decisions are documented and preserved. Access to these archival records enhances accountability and transparency of the Government.

To enable effective transfer of knowledge: The Government and the community can learn from their past as documented in the archival records maintained by GRS. Meanwhile, researchers and educators can use the archival records and produce materials that contribute to the academic and educational world. Knowledge is sustained and passed to the future generations.

To preserve and foster corporate and collective memory: Archival records are documentary heritage capturing the significant activities and experiences shared by the Government, the society and its people. Through appraisal, records documenting these activities and experiences are identified with a view to fostering the corporate memory, collective memory and identity of the people.

Who should appraise?

The Archivists of PRO have the responsibility to appraise the records to determine the value and thus the final disposition of the records, making them either permanent retention or destruction. In the process of the appraisal, we may engage others within the Government or stakeholders, such as information technology specialists, subject experts to provide information and input to facilitate the evaluation and preservation of the records as appropriate.

Records appraisal

When should appraisal happen?

Records appraisal

Ideally, appraisal should be done at or near the moment the records are created. In fact, GRS and B/Ds collaboratively established the records retention and disposal schedules that enable early appraisal. For the timing of records appraisal, it is usually undertaken by Archivists at the following junctures:

    when B/Ds establish or amend the records retention and disposal schedules
    when the records have satisfied the retention period stipulated in the records retention and disposal schedules
    when the records reach 30 years or above

What are the selection criteria?

The following categories of records outline the general selection criteria of PRO in the appraisal of records to determine whether they possess archival value or not. Records are likely to be selected for permanent retention if they contain information which satisfies one or more of the following criteria:

  • document or reflect the organisation, functions and activities of government agencies;
  • document the formation process, implementation and outcome of significant policies, decisions, legislation and actions of the Government;
  • document the impact of the decisions, policies and programmes of the Government upon the physical environment, community, organisations or individuals;
  • document the interaction between the public and the Government as well as between the physical environment and the Government;
  • document the legal rights and obligations of individuals, groups, organisations and the Government; or
  • contain significant or unique information or aged documents that can enrich the understanding about the history, physical environment, society, culture, economy and people of Hong Kong.

What are the archival values of the records?

Appraisal is about assessing the value of the record through research, analysis and assessment. In general, there are two layers of value of the record, namely primary values and secondary values. Primary values are the values for the records creating agency. In the government context, records are created for administrative, fiscal, legal, and operating purposes. Secondary values are the values for the users other than the records creators. The secondary values can be divided into evidential values and informational values. The 'evidential' value derives from the way the record documented the history, structure and functions of an organisation, and informational value derives from the provision of research materials on persons, places and subjects.

selection criterion

How to conduct appraisal?

The appraisal process comprises a number of types of analysis to gather information for assessing the archival value of the records and to make the appraisal decisions, including compiling information about records, assessing the value of the records, determining the feasibility of preserving records and making the appraisal decisions.

GRS developed its appraisal guidelines based on the best practice and experience of overseas jurisdictions and international standards to assist the Archivists to assess records holistically, select records based on consistent and systematic yardsticks, and ultimately reach informed and justifiable appraisal decisions.

Following these guidelines, the Archivist conducts function and content analyses to appraise the archival values of records. These will be based on a record's primary value for B/Ds' core functions and secondary value to the wider community as a resource for historical research. Information about the records creating agency, its administrative history, mandate, organisational structure and functions; business procedures and workflows documenting business processes; and file classification scheme, file lists and metadata schema, etc. would also be considered in the assessment.