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Standards for care and management

(photo) Collections in temporary storage awaiting repackaging.
Collections in temporary storage awaiting repackaging. From the photograph collection of the Bureau of Land Management, Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado.


The need for standards for the long-term care and management of archeological collections has been recognized since the late 1970s, largely because significant differences in practice and staffing existed among repositories. Few guidelines existed to aid archeologists and repository staff until 1990 when the issuance of 36 CFR 79 set up a minimum set of standards for federal agencies, tribes, and repositories. Over the last decade, some federal, tribal, state, and local agencies have used these standards as a foundation for developing more detailed policies and guidelines for the long-term care and management of their own collections.

Although an important beginning, 36 CFR 79 does not address several key issues and needs. They do not provide specific requirements for inventorying either material remains or associated records. They do not institute a system to certify repositories that meet the standards of 36 CFR 79 or establish deadlines and enforcement protocols for bringing repositories up to standards. Nor do they set up a grant program to facilitate any of these latter efforts.

Some differences in the execution of standards have caused headaches for both the owners of collections and the care-giving repositories. Repositories are sometimes faced with different collection management standards that are required by different agencies. As well, federal and state agencies may have collections in many repositories, each following different levels of standards. As discussed in Section III, there are many differences in the standards and policies used by states, tribes, universities, and museums across the U.S.

Although 36 CFR 79 focuses on standards for the care and management of material remains, it also provides some standards for associated records and reports. It is important to recognize, however, that professional archival standards for the care and management of archeological records are not fully considered in 36 CFR 79. For example, there are a variety of different media of records (e.g., paper; photographic negative, slide, and print; audio and video tape; motion picture) and archivists have standards of care for each. Archivists also have begun to develop appropriate standards for the long-term management of digital data, which have become a significant component of archeological records in recent years. Unfortunately, since 36 CFR 79 was developed over ten years ago, the care and management of digital data is not addressed.

Also of importance is access to the associated records of archeological projects. The regulations do not cover the standardization of document finding aids for optimal use by research archeologists, managers, interpreters, culturally affiliated groups, and the general public. The Council for the Preservation of Anthropological Records (CoPAR), however, is working on increasing access to such records.

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