Research Plan and Problem Statement
Appraisal of the Electronic Community Network

Uses and Users of Information -- LIS 391D.1 -- Spring 1997

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The variety of types of archives makes it difficult to develop any one set of selection criteria that will work for all archives without local adaptation. A question exists about the possibility of developing useful, adaptive tools to guide selection decisions within a single specific type of institution. This study proposes to examine whether or not the archival appraisal criteria and selection tools developed in work conducted by archivists Frank Boles and Julia Marks Young and described in their book, Archival Appraisal, can be refined and applied to local history repositories and archives to assist in appraising the archival value of records produced by electronic community networks.

The electronic community network is rich with records that describe the local history and culture of a community. Archivists have not evaluated these networks or captured for retention and preservation the information in them for future use by social historians and other researchers. The intent of this study is to evaluate the archival value of a selected number of existing electronic community networks using selection criteria taken from the work first performed by Boles and Young and refined by local history repository archivists. The study will also revise and refine the quantification techniques used in the selection process tested by Boles and Young in the 1980s. This study will seek to provide significant criteria to use in evaluating materials for acquisition by local history repositories and archives and will determine how the archival value of the electronic community network record compares to the value of other community information sources when evaluated using these criteria.

Appraisal Challenges and Users of Archives

Archivists have long wrestled with the fundamental issue of determining what they will acquire and preserve for reference by future researchers, an activity called appraisal. Archivists view the appraisal and selection process as a grave responsibility because those records selected for long term retention and preservation are the records that will be used by researchers and historians to describe and interpret our culture long into the future. In performing this task, the archivist weighs the value of the information as it relates to the collection development policy of the organization and its parent body. The archivist analyzes the records themselves usually in groups rather than individually, determines the value of the information, items, or groups to current and potential users of the archives, considers the ability of the archives to preserve the records, and reviews the costs that will be incurred with acquiring, processing, preserving, and storing the record for research use over the long term.

Appraisal is defined in A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers as:

"the process of determining the value and thus the disposition of records based upon 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." (Bellardo & Bellardo, 1992, p. 2).

This operational definition of appraisal has evolved over time from the work of several notable archivists. In 1940, Philip C. Brooks presented a discussion of appraisal which argued for the destruction of duplicate materials and the definition of permanent value. His definition of permanent value included the value that the person or institution creating the records placed on them, the usefulness of the records for administrative history, and historical value. (Brooks, 1940). G. Philip Bauer later added that costs should play an important role in appraisal and that selection could include an element of prioritizing information on the basis of subsequent use. (Bauer, 1946). Theodore Schellenberg in 1956 articulated and codified the principles of primary and secondary value still used today. Primary values were those uses for which the records had been originally created based on three values; legal, fiscal, and administrative. He argued that records did not become eligible archival material until the original purpose for their creation had been completed and at that point, secondary values, all of the other possible uses to which the records might be put beyond the original purpose for which they were created, become the principle concern of archival selection. At the secondary value level, historical evidential value becomes important along with informational value. Informational values in Schellenbergís definition encompass records that document specific persons, things, and phenomena considered important. (Schellenberg, 1956). Maynard J. Brichford wrote the next chapter on appraisal in 1979 by presenting a complex array of appraisal ideas based on four concerns: the characteristics of the records, administrative values, research values, and archival values. Under each of these four, he enumerated record characteristics that need to be considered in the appraisal process. (Brichford, 1979).

In the 1980s, Boles and Young undertook the first systematic study to compare the appraisal attitudes and practices of archivists. They polled a large number of archivists to determine if common selection elements were used in appraisal, developed a taxonomy to interrelate those commonly used elements, examined and studied how decisions were made in a limited number of archival institutions of varying types, and developed a quantification method to test as a potential selection tool in those archives. They found that selection and appraisal practices vary widely and so did the definition of appraisal used by archivists. (Boles & Young, 1991).

Although it is problematic to determine who will be using the local archive in the future and for what purpose, archivists have conducted a few user studies to provide a base of information upon which to project future use patterns and types of use. Jacqueline Goggin examined use patterns of thirteen collections at the Library of Congress from organizations of blacks and women and recommended that more user studies be conducted and that they be integrated with the appraisal process used by archivists. (Goggin, 1986). Samuel Hays researched the use of archives for historical statistical inquiry and called for historians to provide greater input in the appraisal process. (Hays, 1969). Fredric Miller conducted a citation analysis of social history published between 1981 and 1985 and found that social historians do rely considerably on archives in their research although one group, quantitative social science historians, did not use archives at all. (Miller, 1986). Research on current archive users is limited and archivists commonly define potential users simply as existing users who have not visited the local archives yet. We do know that researchers interested in the social sciences and historians do use archives to study local history. We also know that local history provides a valued contribution to social science because fundamental processes which direct social evolution generally emerge in local communities.

Challenges in Appraising the Electronic Community Network

Archivists are looking for tools and methods to assist in making selection decisions more consistent and cost effective, particularly now when this responsibility is complicated by the ever increasing numbers of records being created not just in paper form but (sometimes only) in electronic form.

Archivists and records managers use retention guidelines to help determine which electronic records and paper records of permanent value will be kept, but these tools apply to government and corporate records more precisely than they apply to the electronic records being developed at the grass-roots community level. These creations have no retention schedules or routines to regulate their retention and guide the archivist. We do not know how many of the grass-roots created electronic records are being preserved in local history repositories and archives today, but we do know that they are being created.

One type of grass-roots community level electronic record that has sprung up in the past ten years is the electronic community network. The electronic community network provides community information and a means for local electronic communication. This type of network has three distinguishing characteristics. The first characteristic is that although each electronic community network is unique, they all focus on local issues, emphasizing local culture, local relevance, local pride, and community ownership. (Morino, 1994). Examples of the types of information found on these networks include public transportation schedules, advice from local professionals and tradespeople, health information, social service information, restaurant listings, calendars of events, local organization contacts, and forums for discussion of local issues. A second characteristic is a concern that all members of the community have access to the information being created. Many community network groups provide libraries, community centers, and other publicly accessible places with computers and telecommunications connectivity so that all people can access the information. A third distinguishing characteristic is the belief held by many who create these networks that these systems can vitalize communities and motivate people to find and build solutions to local problems.

These networks which electronically record the problems, events, culture, and stories of communities contain information that archivists in their pursuit of local history and community information generally want to preserve for the long term. Some of these networks may contain original research material that social historians will want to access and use in context with printed resources in the future. The data these networks contain often have a short life span. These electronic records pose special problems for archivists because: (a) they are created in highly transient electronic formats that can change easily and frequently; (b) they are not held to any standard template or format in their creation; and (c) they often use multimedia formats including images, text, and sound.

The loss of electronic information is a growing concern. Bill Barnes in an article entitled "Preserving the Internet, 1 Terabyte at a Time" describes the situation where every minute thousands of Web pages are added, updated or abandoned. (Barnes, 1997). Brewster Kahle describes the Internet as a "rich cultural artifact," and he believes that it can be easily made available to researchers and that it has historical and scholarly research uses. In his ambitious work to preserve the Internet, he hopes to address issues which are barriers to local archivists such as the issue of the usability of digital data over a period of decades, conversion to new file formats for the text, images, audio, and video technologies, the physical security of the data, and the packaging of the meta-data (information about the information) to inform future users. He admits that perhaps not all should be saved but suggests that the costs of saving it all are now low enough that it should all be saved. (Kahle, 1996). Another who shares this viewpoint is Nathan Myhrvold of Microsoft Corporation. In his article "Why Archive the Internet?", he contends that although it is technologically feasible to create archival forms of data on the Internet, there is no cultural or societal imperative to create archival material in the Internet community. He predicts that future historians will look on the early days of the Internet as a pre-literate society because none of it will remain for study. He further points out that paper based historical records will become increasingly insufficient for the interpretation of history because such records are a declining portion of the total historical record. (Myhrvold, 1997).

Although the formats of the Internet and electronic community networks may be new, the issue of collecting the commonplace everyday history of people as they create it is not new. Fredric Miller in his 1986 article "Use, Appraisal, and Research: A Case Study of Social History" applauds the archivist for being adept at recognizing the importance of fields such as womenís history and popular culture. In his article "Social History and Archival Practice," he also warns that entire segments of our history are being ignored in archives and that "our existing strategies have definite implications for the scholarly value of our holdings." He pleads that "Without a conscious reorientation, repositories will continue to be filled with the records of well-meaning reformers and institutionalized good will, while the common people and the economic powers together go relatively undocumented." (Miller, 1981, p. 118). Miller is not alone in suspecting that archives collect and house materials which end up portraying the history of only a small segment of society. Boles and Young also point out in their study, Archival Appraisal, that hidden prejudices or biases can be implicit in selection criteria and can be fleshed out through the application of consistent selection criteria. (Boles & Young, 1991).

Everyone seems to agree that we need to collect the history that is being created today in electronic formats at the local level and the broad Internet level. A few advocate keeping it all as the solution to avoid the potential loss of history; however, most archivists are unable to take this approach. Most local history repository archivists work with fiscal and resource constraints and must adhere to fixed institutional policies. They must choose which material to preserve and this results in some information describing local history being destroyed. This research proposal aims to address these issues by answering the questions:

The Boles and Young Investigation

To answer these questions, this study will build upon the work pioneered by Frank Boles and Julia Marks Young and reported in their 1991 study, Archival Appraisal. Their research makes an attempt to determine what common definitions, criteria, and methods archivists generally use in the process of selection and appraisal. Boles based his work with Young on the belief, supported by literature review and personal experience, that archivists have not created a well-defined methodology to govern appraisal and selection processes. They studied and field tested their ideas at fourteen archives representing five different types of archival institutions. To bring the elements of information value, costs, and institutional policies together, Boles and Young created a systematic appraisal taxonomy using these three elements with an array of sub-elements and factors attached to each of the three elements. The first element, the value of the information module, examines records in terms of their functional characteristics, use potential, limitations, and intellectual uniqueness. Potential and current users of archives are a specific component of the value of information module. The second element, the cost of retention module, evaluates the expense of records acquisition, processing, preservation, conservation, storage and preparation for reference use. The third element, the policy implications module, evaluates the impact a selection decision will have on external and internal policies of the organization and the influence of the institutionís policies in making selection decisions.

Modules Classifying Selection Elements

Value of Information Module

Costs of Retention Module

Policy Implications Module

Functional Characteristics


External Relations

Content Analysis


Internal Policies

Relationship to Other Documentation




Reference Use

The results of the investigation show that institutional selection practices do vary and suggest that numerical ranking systems applied to a selected list of well defined criteria could assist archivists in making selection decisions in a more even-handed and consistent manner. They determined that archivists have developed a great many policy sets but have no clear sense about how selection processes and policies interrelate or what costs are attached to the decisions that are made. They found cost considerations to be the lowest concern of archivists. Although the numeric weighting or ranking device they developed was quite useful in providing springboards for discussion, clarifying concepts, and building definitions, the method they used was cumbersome to apply and, worse, not at all a predictor of the appraisal values assigned by the archivists who used it. Boles and Young expressed the belief that although their attempt to develop a useful quantitative appraisal method was unsuccessful, it should be pursued in other studies. They felt that with further research and testing decision-making tools that can objectively quantify and help archivists refine and communicate selection decisions could be developed.

Boles and Young view the results of their study as important in framing a new direction for dealing with the overabundance of material coming into archives by establishing consistent objective selection criteria to use in the appraisal process. Boles and Young ended their study with an expanded, reinterpreted list of sub-elements or criteria for each of the three modules. The revised Value of Information Module sub-elements and factors are shown below.

Value of Information Module Sub-Elements Example

Functional Characteristics Sub-Element

Content Analysis Sub-Element

Position in Organization

Significance of Topics Covered

Unit Activities

Time span Covered

Original Record Purpose





Creatorís Relationship to the Topic

Use Sub-Element



Relationship to Other Sub Element Documentation

Current User Interest

Scarcity Within the Repository

Potential User Interest

Original Copy

Use Limitations


Enduring Administrative Value

Intellectual Duplication Within Other Collections

Enduring Legal Value

Intellectual Duplication Within the Group


Intellectual Duplication-Outside Repositories



Use Restrictions

Study Proposal

Using principles developed by Boles and Young in the Archives Appraisal study, we propose to examine in detail the model they proposed at the end of their study, use the taxonomy they suggested, and develop revised quantification tools to determine the value and usefulness of materials being considered for long term retention in local history repositories and archives, especially electronic community network records versus other types of community information in traditional forms.

This study proposes to use the three Boles and Young modules, the revised sub-elements and factors, and their definitions as a study starting point and will construct a new numerically based set of appraisal and selection criteria for use as a tool to help determine the appropriateness of the electronic community network record as an archival record worthy of preservation for use in the future. The study will determine whether or not definitions for the elements, sub-elements, and factors in the three modules are or should be defined differently in the local history repository setting. The research will determine how definitions vary from repository to repository and where they are relatively the same across all cases studied.

The numeric scale and weighting factors to be used will draw upon the work done in previously conducted projects and studies reported in the literature. Other locations which have applied numerical analysis or matrix tools in particular archival appraisal situations include the Washington State Archives, which in 1980 reported on the use of a matrix approach which rated 15 elements on a zero to five scale, and the Childrenís Museum of Indianapolis ranking system, developed for its textile collection, which numerically ranks factors including representativeness; amount of documentation; association with an important person, place, or event; and child and adult interest potential.

This study will focus on the electronic community network in comparison with other potential acquisitions in order to determine whether the electronic community network ranks favorably as a potential acquisition for the local history repository or archive. This study will attempt to determine whether electronic community networks contain the type of material that needs to be retained in local history repositories and archives, examining the informational value of the records as it relates to institutional policies, the cost of retention to the local history repository or archive, and the policy implications of making the acquisition or not making it. This study will uncover challenges faced when attempting to evenly apply a set of selection criteria to electronic records versus traditional archival materials. Using a numerical ranking system to facilitate this process will reduce the subjective evaluation elements sometimes used in the selection process and provide a more empirical basis for determining whether this type of information has archival value in local repositories. It will also refine the numeric ranking system concept and answer the question of whether or not such a system can be devised that will be a useful selection tool for the archivist.

This study will be different from the study conducted by Boles and Young because it will be narrowed to include only local history repositories and archives rather than the broad range of archives used in the study conducted by Boles and Young. The quantification scheme will be applied specifically to evaluate the content available in the electronic community network group of records.

Study Methodology

The study will begin with a broad survey that will help identify a few cases that can be studied using the case study method. A poll or survey of the over three hundred existing electronic community networks will be conducted. The survey or poll of the networks will determine which of these networks has an established relationship with a local history repository or archive and whether all or some of the network transactions are currently being archived. A separate survey of the identifiable local history repositories or archives will determine whether the archive is considering developing a relationship with the community network, has a relationship with the network, and/or views the network as a potential source of archival information fitting within the scope of the current collecting policies of the archive. Data from the separate surveys will provide the information that will guide the selection of a minimum of three cases to be approached for in depth study. It will also identify how many and which repositories and archives have established a method for capturing electronic community network records and produce information that will help shape the study.

The researcher will use the case study method to study this contemporary real-life situation in depth. To participate in this research project, each community case must meet four criteria. They must have an active electronic community network, an archive or repository for local history collections, a trained staff making appraisal and selection decisions in the archive, and connectivity capabilities which allow examination of the electronic community network on-line at the archive. Cases will also be selected on the basis of willingness of the institution to devote time and energy to this work for at least two months, whether or not a collection policy exists for the archive, and whether or not the archive has conducted previous studies to determine the types of information their customers have used or indicated they want to use.

The in depth study will attempt to establish the value of the information of the electronic community network in comparison with the value of other potential acquisitions, consider the cost of retention of the electronic community network as a complete body of information requiring ongoing updates and additions, and examine the scope of the collecting policy of the local history repository or archive for inclusion of the electronic record format. Two key devices will be tested, the numeric ranking system developed to use as a selection tool for each archive and locally adapted selection criteria based on the Boles and Young taxonomy. Participants will evaluate the selection criteria and numeric evaluation tool, use them both in actual day to day work, and evaluate the process of using them as compared with their normal day to day method of making selection decisions. At the start of this study, participants will be asked to describe their existing selection criteria and processes. The researcher will record this information for use in later comparisons. Participants in each case will learn the Boles and Young elements, sub-elements, and factors. After reaching a common understanding of the meaning of the terms used by Boles and Young, participants will discuss and alter the sub-elements and factors to fit the needs of their local situation and refine the modules so that they will be appropriate for the local situation. The researcher will note the discussions and record the ways the definitions are altered and adapted to meet the needs of each local situation.

Participants will rank the importance of each of the revised elements in the context of their current local selection needs and practices. The resulting number will become the weighted factor in determining the overall selection score for the appraisal of records over the course of the case study. These rankings may vary or may be the same in all cases. The researcher will note similarities and differences. The numeric scale will rank each of the groups or items being considered for acquisition during the two month case study period. The resulting data will provide information that can be compared and demonstrate how the selection tools worked when applied to a variety of potential acquisitions. The electronic community network will be included as a group of records to be evaluated, considered as a whole item. The numeric scale ranking results will be evaluated to demonstrate similarities and differences across the cases.

Study Value

This study will add to the growing base of knowledge about appraisal and selection tools, will help determine whether or not electronic community records are worthy of retention in local history repositories and archives, and may influence archivists to apply the tools used in this study.

The selection tool development portion of this research effort aims to create tools that add consistency to the appraisal decision making process. The study will answer the questions left by Boles and Young at the conclusion of their investigation concerning the viability of numeric ranking and weighting systems and how these ranking systems are teamed with the closely interwoven factors used by archivists in making selection decisions. Constructing a set of locally adapted definitions and a ranking scale that accurately reflects what archivists look for and consider when evaluating records in the local history repository or archive will be one of the most significant portions of the study. The use of numeric ranking to help clarify the nature of the material that is being evaluated will have specific applicability to local history repositories and archives and broad applicability and significance for archives of all types considering appraisal, selection, and acquisition questions. It will help bring uniformity to an area of archival work that other studies have shown is performed quite differently from archive to archive. While this inconsistency in appraisal practice may be appropriate because local practice recognizes local and unique differences, it may also point to a lack of tools with which to consistently evaluate the ever increasing amounts of information being created in paper and electronic form. A new tool could assist archivists in making consistent decisions that can be communicated clearly to others.

The second purpose of the study is to specifically address the electronic community network and rank this type of material in comparison with the traditional materials collected in local history repositories and archives. The concern that these records may have enduring permanent value which is not being captured is not being addressed. The question of whether the records are of archival value needs to be answered before time and money is spent collecting, preserving, and making them accessible to the researcher. If, on the other hand, this information has relatively low value in these few cases, then little is being lost for these communities and their current and potential users and money and attention can be directed elsewhere.

Finally, if this study determines that these records do contain information of value that merits retention in local history repositories and archives, is affordable, and matches institutional collecting policies, then others beyond the few cases used in the study will have a tool to apply in their situation and a basis for applying it. The selection tool developed in the study could be applied by archivists to evaluate unique community networks across the country to determine whether this information should be preserved for their local history repositories or archives. This question has significance because electronic community networks are so fluid and dynamic that each day the data on the network goes uncollected, a portion of history is lost to potential future researchers.


F. Gerald Ham, speaking before the Society of American Archivists as its President, said

"Our most important and intellectually demanding task as archivists is to make an informed selection of information that will provide the future with a representative record of human experience in our time. But why must we do it so badly? Is there any other field of information gathering that has such a broad mandate with a selection process so random, so fragmented, so uncoordinated, and even so often accidental?"(Ham, 1975, p. 5).

He proposed a framework for interinstitutional policies and cooperation. Such a framework, he hoped, would establish regional and even national collecting goals. This framework has been slow to evolve because it depends on communication using standard well understood definitions, collaboration between people with diverse local concerns, and allegiance to varying institutional policies.

It is a difficult goal to achieve. Making appraisal decisions within a single institution is a difficult task and one that, although it is performed by highly trained, dedicated professional archivists everywhere, varies in practice from place to place and from archivist to archivist. Making appraisal decisions concerning the electronic community network records being created in communities across the country is even more difficult for several reasons. The electronic nature of the record is fluid, it is different from the nature of the traditional archival record, and it poses a series of questions for the archivists about storage, preservation, costs, and long term accessibility for future researchers.

This study attempts to provide a set of selection tools by building on the taxonomy proposed by Boles and Young and seeks to refine it for application in local history repositories and archives. The study will demonstrate that all materials being considered for inclusion in local history repositories and archives can be evaluated for selection using locally adapted commonly shared definitions and criteria and numerically based ranking mechanisms tailored to fit local institutional policies. Through application of these criteria and selection tools, the study will point out the challenges of comparing the electronic community network record with the traditional archival material, resolve the challenges, and determine whether or not these records need to be aggressively pursued for retention in local history repositories.

This study is a starting point for addressing the fundamental question of whether or not these records contain information that merits retention. The significance of this study is that it may influence archivists to consider including the electronic community network in their acquisition process and ensure that these fluid and rapidly changing network records are retained and preserved for future use by researchers.

If the process of appraisal and selection can be made more consistent and effective through the use of these selection tools in local history repositories and archives, then perhaps we will have taken a small step forward, moving beyond "doing it badly" to rational planning and consistent decision making in appraisal. Perhaps we can then begin to use common definitions and terminology to communicate selection decisions and values and move closer to development of regional and national collecting goals that will result in comprehensive bodies of research material in larger varieties being retained for researchers.

Selected Bibliography

Assessment and evolution of community networking (1994, May 5). Presented at "Ties That Bind" Apple Computer/Morino Institute Conference On Building Community Computing Networks. [On-line]. Available:

Barnes, B. (February 27, 1997). Preserving the Internet, 1 at a time. Nothing But Net. [On-line]. Available.

Bauer, G. P. (June, 1946). "The appraisal of current and recent records. The National Archives Staff Information Circulars 13,1-22.

Beamish, A. (1995). Communities on-line: Community based computer networks. Masterís thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. [On-line]. Available:

Bellardo, L. J. & Bellardo, L. L. (1992). A Glossary for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Boles, F. with Young, J. M. (1991). Archival Appraisal. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Boles, F. & Young, J. M. (1985).Exploring the black box: The appraisal of university administrative records. American Archivist, 48(2), 121-140.

Brichford, M. J. (1979). Archives and Manuscripts: Appraisal and Accessioning. SAA Basic Manual Series. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Brooks, P. C. (October, 1940). The selection of records for preservation. American Archivist, 3, 221-234.

Conway, P. (1986). Facts and frameworks: An approach to studying the users of archives. American Archivist, 49(4), 393-407.

Dearstyne, B. W. (1987). What is the use of archives? A challenge for the profession. American Archivist, 50(1), 76-87.

Goggin, J. (1986). The indirect approach: A study of scholarly users of Black and womenís organizational records in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division. Midwestern Archivist, 11, 57-67.

Ham, F. G. (1975) The archival edge. American Archivist, 38(1), 5-13.

Ham, F. G. (1993) Selecting and appraising archives and manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.

Hays, S. P. (1969). The use of archives for historical statistical inquiry. Prologue, 1, 7-15.

Hedstrom, M. (Fall, 1989)."New appraisal techniques: The effect of theory on practice," Provenance, 7(2), 1-21.

Kahle, B. (November 4, 1996). Archiving the Internet: Bold efforts to record the entire Internet are expected to lead to new services. Submitted to Scientific American for March 1997 issue, [On-line]. Available:

Hedstrom, M. (1997). "How do we make electronic archives usable and accessible?" Documenting the Digital Age Conference, [On-line]. Available:

Miller, F. (1981). Social history and archival practice. American Archivist, 44(2), 113-124.

Miller, F. (1986). Use, appraisal, and research: A case study of social history. American Archivist, 49(4), 371-392.

Myhrvold, N. (1997). "Why archive the Internet?" Documenting the Digital Age Conference, [On-line]. Available:

Parker, D. D. (1944). Local history: How to gather it, write it, and publish it. New York: Social Science Research Council.

Schellenberg, T. R. (1956). The appraisal of modern records. Bulletin of the National Archives, 8. Washington, DC.

Schellenberg, T. R. (1956). Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

This paper uses the APA Style Manual as a guide:

American Psychological Association. (1994). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (4th ed.). Washington DC: Author.

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