Gifting A Life Legacy

Appraising A Donated Archive

The ultimate purpose of the appraisal of a donated archive is to establish the current cost that would be needed to secure, and possibly maintain, the collection which will reveal the real fair market value of the donated compendium ……… “the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” This discussion centers on the value found in letters, copies of letters and various business related documents that make up an archival donated academic resource.

The author is proposing that this appraisal assignment deals with the “ABC” Publishing House Archive which has been donated to a university……..

Any addition to a library collection is a unique resource built up over years in which the value of every item is enhanced by its relationship to others in the collection; all items will have been selected for donation to meet the particular goals and needs of a particular university library and the library’s patrons. In valuing a library collection rather than a museum collection, the major consideration, or test of value is: what is the value of this collection to the university, its researchers and students? What does it contribute to the library? What would it cost to replace the services the university and the library obtain from the collection?

This line of questioning leads to commenting on the deprival value and relevance life of the collection. Deprival value is neither the product of any particular valuation technique nor a valuation methodology in its own right, but instead focuses on the useful life of an asset. Deprival value is based on the legal notion of compensation for loss during the period of useful life. Relevance life, on the other hand, is defined as the period during which content or subject matter is relevant to a library’s user population; it is that period between acquisition and obsolescence. This is addressed in the summary portion of this article.

According to The National Park Service, NPS Museum Handbook, Part II (2008), they suggest the strategy for appraising archival and manuscript materials is to demonstrate the current value in one or more of the following areas: − evidential value, informational value and/or associational value.


Evidential value is a record of the activities, goals, policies, programs, administration, and organization of the archives creator. Such records constitute evidence of the actions taken or considered by the creator which reflect his or her activities and thoughts. This background information, or evidential value, can be found in the following type of material:

A material history of the ABC Press and a copy of the 1st year Balance sheet, notebooks, Interviews with the owner on publishing and various appropriate newspaper clippings.


Informational value, according to National Park Service NPS Museum Handbook, Part II (2008), “an archival collection has “informational value” if it contains information on historical events, themes, issues, and eras. In evaluating a collection’s informational value what is sought is Unique Information. Information contained in a collection is unique if:

  • It’s not readily available elsewhere (such as, in books, or in newspapers, or in other archival collections), or
  • The collection contains information from a particular perspective that is not available elsewhere.”

This information is usually available in copies of letters to and from authors, media and arts figures and publishers.


“Associational value” refers to a collection’s relationship to a person, organization, or event whose history compliments the subject matter researched or taught at the university. In this case the university finds great value in the research material concerning the development and history of a successful publishing house. Examples found in this collection may include financial notes and reports dealing with the development of a publishing house. These records contain “Administrative value” which refers to the usefulness of a part of the collection for purposes of management and development.

The associational value is also considered as an addendum to the evidentiary material presented earlier regarding the development of a publishing house regarding the policies, finances and procedural documents as it concerns the actual substance surrounding the history of the publishing house.

Associational value may be available in the form of copies of original and photocopied letters to the owner from writers, publishers and people in media and art worlds, any or all of which could be of great interest to researchers in varying academic disciplines.


In a comparable sense, CSU-LA received an “archive” of musical instruments that were shown to be intimately related to the mission of the university through its use as a “hands on educational experience.”

The primary missions of the California State University – Los Angeles (CSU-LA), education and research, will be enhanced with this collection enabling the students to see, feel and examine exotic and rare instruments from all corners of the globe. For example, as noted in the Newcastle University syllabus re: music studies: “Aims: Organology is a module that introduces students to the study of musical instruments, to their classification systems, to their use and meaning in different cultures, and to the technical aspects related to their constructions and sound qualities. The module is designed to: offer students an introduction to Organology, surveying its history, theories, methodologies, major writings, recordings and audio-visual documents from key scholars in the field. Lectures will focus on a range of topics (such as: musical instrument classification systems, organology and iconography, historical and cultural diffusion of musical instruments) and will guide students through a self-learning experience.”

While this class is presently not offered at CSU-LA, with the addition of this collection the range of educational offerings has significantly increased. Peter McAllister, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts and Letters maintains, “This MLC World Music Collection is truly an important acquisition, as some of the top-tier instruments will be performed each year, while others will be used for study/research or for “hands on” educational experiences.”


The appraiser would value this collection as having two distinct and separate measures. First is the value ascribed to that information made available for the purpose of academic support and investigation. The second lens for valuation deals with the effect the library contents have on attracting and retaining research interns and post-doctoral students.

The first question is addressed in The Australian Library Journal, May 13, 2014, stating: “General assets (physical non-current assets other than land) are either specialized or non-specialized assets. Specialized general assets are those which because of their special design or location would not normally be purchased on a secondary market. A library collection that has been built up over a number of years in accordance with a collection development plan tailored to a client population with particular needs and purposes in a particular geographic area, could not be replaced as an entity by purchase on a secondary market. As there is no trading market for such assets, the appropriate value is the lower of the current replacement cost or current reproduction cost of that service potential”. “Library collections should be regarded as specialized general assets, and therefore the appropriate value should be the current replacement cost of the service potential -the materials within the collection”.

The valuation within the lens of congregate general assets ties in strongly with the Deprival Value of the collection: That is, “what is the value of this collection to this organization? What does it contribute to the organization? What would it cost to replace the services this organization obtains from the collection?

The second question is addressed in The Association of Colleges and Research Libraries (ACRL) article, Towards Demonstrating Value: Measuring the Contributions of Library Collections to University Research and Teaching Goals, Denise Pan, Gabrielle Wiersma, and Yem Fong, 2010. A pilot study was done by the University of Colorado Denver that analyzed the extent to which use of online library resources contributed to faculty teaching and research outcomes. A byproduct of the study was the discovery of the percentage of usage of print material. The ACRL Comprehensive Review in 2010 stated, “Academic libraries can help higher education institutions retain and graduate students, a keystone part of institutional missions, (Mezick 2007, 561).

“Based on interviews, Denver’s Chemistry faculty read on average 3 additional articles for every reference citation. The citation analysis revealed that 88% (742 out of 845) of all references were from journals. If the Denver study participants did not have access to the Library’s collections, they would have spent nearly $100,000 over two years. This amount was calculated by multiplying the total number of journal citations and articles read by an estimated cost of $30 to purchase an article. The $30 price was determined by a sample of the 14 most cited journals from 6 different publishers.”

A Cornell librarian states, “We all know that maintaining a research library requires a large investment. The annual expenditure figures of a library quantify the investment, but do not tell the whole story”.

She continues, “How do we quantify the other side of the story, the contributions the library makes in return to the university? Borrowing some of the methods public libraries use, RAU has calculated dollar values for some core library transactions. This is only an illustration and is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways the library contributes to the university.”

In the article “Library Value Calculations”, Cornell University states, “If CUL did not exist, the university would have had to pay the following amount last year to secure services that are comparable to the use that the Cornell community makes of the library: for the use of physical volumes: $15,135,782”.

A Cornell Research Library study done in Boulder substantiates this methodology for valuing library materials. The study states:

“For in-depth consultations that contribute to Cornell research results: $126,900”

“The assumption is that $75/hr. is a fair representation of the value of a research consultation. This figure is based on the fee-based reference rate charged at the ILR library for requests coming from non-Cornellians.”

“In 2008/2009, 376 consultations were conducted at the handful of unit libraries that record these transactions. We are estimating that three times this number took place at CUL as a whole, and that the average length of a consultation was 90 minutes.”

University research libraries are not accustomed to assigning a monetary value to the contributions that they make to the university through the uses of their donated collections, services and expertise, although public libraries have been recently moving in this direction.


The appraiser has reviewed various academic studies dealing with the issue of valuation of an archive and finds, in the case of this donor and this specific recipient, the rare content of the existing copies of original materials donated and the needs of the university are synchronous.
While appraising a limited edition copy of The Saint John’s Bible, for donation to the Kansas State University Library Archives, the appraiser found the reproduction available on the market at $155,000 while the original Bible was valued at $8,200,000. In this instance the rare content found in a copied state had significant value to the university library. The market in reference to iconic handwritten manuscripts is strong and vibrant.

Additionally, the appraiser has recently valued a literary assemblage of rare correspondence from a prominent but reclusive author that has been privately sold and subsequently deposited in a secure vault. It is the appraiser’s opinion that copies of this material, containing rare and key references to the thinking of this author, has a definite fair market value, not for a collector, but for a research university and a serious academic.

All are aware of the intrinsic academic value of a university library but little time is devoted to monetizing that value. There is little information available dealing with comparable “sales” but this appraiser believes that upon reflection, and as noted above, university and research libraries do address this topic for budget purposes. Also, as noted previously, the deprival value of this archive is philosophically measurable in terms of loss in research hours and the painful loss due to lack of comparable information availability.

Assuming that in our “ABC Archive” there are over 3000 copies and few original letters to and from the publisher supported by diaries, notebooks and interviews as well as a trove of private material relevant to the building of a major publishing house over the last 50 years. Understanding that it would be impossible to replace this archive, and considering its usefulness as a tool for enticing post-doctoral students to the University School of Journalism, by making use of the previously noted ACRL rational and setting a $30 value per letter and appropriating an additional $10,000 for the ancillary material as a fair basis for determining the most appropriate value for this collection in the hands of a university, the appraiser securely sets the value for this archive of gateways into the thoughts and creativity of the publishing house at $ 100,000.


Towards Demonstrating Value: Measuring the Contributions of Library Collections to University Research and Teaching Goals Denise Pan, Gabrielle Wiersma, and Yem Fong

Towards Demonstrating Value 461 March 30–April 2, 2011, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The study provided a framework to demonstrate economic value in terms of total dollars spent and returned to the university via sponsored research awards.

Other research conducted by Cornell and members of the Association of Research Libraries describes the costs of funding services and collections as represented in terms of business costs or a fair market assessment and argues in favor of the hidden value that the library provides to the academy.

  1. Denise Pan and Yem Fong, “Return on Investment of Collaborative Collection Development: Evaluating the Cost-Benefit of Consortia Purchasing,” Collaborative Librarianship 2, no.4 (2010): 184.
  2. Judy Luther, University Investment in the Library: What’s the Return? A Case Study at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (San Diego: Elsevier, 2008), lcwp0101.pdf (accessed September 4, 2010).
  3. Cornell University Library Research and Assessment Unit, “Library Value Calculations,” Cornell University Library, (accessed September 4, 2010).

University Libraries Archives & Special Collections at the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center of the University of Connecticut Libraries Digital Repository which include:

  • Connecticut History Illustrated (CHI)
  • Marriage Equality and LGBT Activism in Connecticut Oral History Transcript Collection
  • Charles Olson Research Collection
  • New Haven Railroad Valuation Maps
  • Romano (U. Roberto) Papers
  • Sudan and Darfur Research Collection

Society of American Archivists,

The Archival Appraisal of Slide Collections at Cornell University, Liz Muller, Cornell University,, Marsha Taichman, Cornell University,

Not an inexhaustible resource:
Valuation and depreciation of library collections in the Queensland Department of Education

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the valuation of library collections is not an issue which is being addressed by library managers, despite the growing popularity of accrual accounting in publicly funded institutions. The implications of asset valuation are discussed. The experience of developing and implementing a methodology for valuing the numerous library collections of the Queensland Department of Education is described.

Manuscript received December 1996

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