Trudy Huskamp Peterson 2014-02-12 11:59:01
“One can resist the invasion of armies, but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas whose time has come,” declared Victor Hugo in his novel Historie d’un crime. In August 2012, the time had come for the Principles of Access to Archives, which were adopted as a best practice guideline by the International Council on Archives (ICA). The Principles did not magically appear: They are the culmination of a process that began in 1996 with the adoption of the ICA Code of Ethics, which states that individual archivists have a responsibility to implement access policies. This was followed by the “Outline of a Standard European Policy on Access to Archives,” which was adopted as an ICA best practice in 1997 and focused almost exclusively on government archives. In 2010, ICA adopted the Universal Declaration on Archives (endorsed by UNESCO in 2011), which also included statements on access. Each of these documents made valuable contributions, but none was specific to the issue of access in every archives, governmental or nongovernmental. The Principles of Access to Archives fills that gap. The ten Principles begin with an overarching principle stating the importance of access to archives, are followed by seven principles on the relationship between the user and the archives, and conclude with two principles on the role of the archivist in the process of determining access. Each principle is accompanied by one or more explanatory paragraphs, and the headline statement plus the explanatory paragraphs together define the principle. Each month ICA’s Human Rights Working Group News is featuring one of the principles, providing examples of the need for the principle and its importance. Back issues of the News can be found at http://www.ica.org/?lid=12315&bid=1082. Here are the next steps that ICA is pursuing: Translation At the time of writing, the Principles document is available on the ICA website in English and French at http://www .ica.org/13619/toolkits-guides-manualsand- guidelines/draft-principles-of-accessto- archives.html. Translations in Italian, Portuguese, and Spanish are underway, and an Arabic version should soon follow, along with Chinese and Russian. Translations into other languages are encouraged; all versions should be sent to Margaret Turner (email@example.com), who manages ICA’s translation program. Application A technical report that suggests ways to implement the Principles in an archival institution should be available in early 2013. Drafted in English, it, too, will be translated into as many languages as possible. Discussion The working group that prepared the Principles hopes that each archival institution will measure its practices against these guidelines, and we encourage staff members to start discussions with their managers about the Principles. Programs Each ICA regional body is asked to include a session on the Principles at its next regional meeting. The working group hopes that archival associations will also incorporate sessions on the Principles into their annual meeting programs. And we encourage Archivists to suggest to user groups— academic, genealogical, veterans—that they feature discussions about the Principles at their association’s events. Sharing The working group believes it is important to share the Principles with researchers. We encourage archival institutions to display a copy of the Principles in their reading rooms for researchers to use as well as a link to the guidelines on their websites. We also are hoping to develop a “seal of approval” for archival institutions to place on their websites, informing that the institution’s policies are in line with those of the Principles. Other Other suggested promotional efforts, such as video clips of individuals explaining why access to archives is important to them, are under discussion. The working group earnestly seeks ideas from anyone on promotional efforts that might be helpful to the profession. The aim of all archival efforts, as discussed in the Principles, is to provide access to archives under conditions that satisfy the legitimate needs of both the institutions and the individuals that created them and the research public. Most archival institutions have a long history of managing access. The Principles permit archivists to measure their institutional practices against an external benchmark and then to strengthen them where appropriate. The Principles are a robust floor under practice, and they provide an authoritative basis for archivists and researchers to have a thoughtful discussion of the conditions for access to any extant body of records in the archives.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.