International Archives Day

June 9 is International Archives Day. It commemorates the day the International Council on Archives (ICA) was created in 1948. On International Archives Day, archives all over the world will host special events to show off their collections or the work that they do, and will share stories with each other and with fans of archives worldwide.

Archivist of the United States Solon J. Buck, delivering a lecture in the Dominican Republic, 3/15/1948. (National Archives Identifier 12167214)

The International Council on Archives was established in Paris during a three-day meeting of archivists from June 9 to 11, 1948. Its purpose was to strengthen relations among archivists of all nations, to promote the use of records, and to advance the documentation of human experience.

The National Archives supported the ICA’s creation because it would provide a much-needed forum for archivists from around the world to discuss common issues.

Archivist of the United States Solon Buck addressed the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in October 1946 to promote international cooperation.

In this address, titled “One World,” Buck, then president of the SAA, proposed an international organization of archivists and outlined the steps needed to make it happen. The National Archives had been active in protecting records during World War II, and Buck was eager to ensure that archives continued to be safe in the postwar world.

The next year, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which had agreed to sponsor such an organization, sent out over a hundred questionnaires to leading archivists around the world to determine just what kind of international organization was needed. Enclosed with each questionnaire was a copy of Buck’s “One World” address.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, 9/1/1951. (National Archives Identifier 12167486)

Based on the replies, Buck and one of his staff archivists, Oliver Wendell Holmes, began to prepare a draft constitution for the organization. In spring 1948, UNESCO, which had appropriated a small amount of money for the endeavor, sent out invitations to a meeting in Paris to discuss the organization for an international council on archives.

The SAA selected Buck to represent United States archivists at the Paris meeting. There, delegates adopted the constitution Buck and Holmes had drafted with a few changes, and selected officers to serve until 1950. Buck was elected vice president for the Western Hemisphere, and Holmes was appointed as one of the two deputy secretaries-general.

Under the leadership of its first president, Charles Samaran of France, the Council held the First International Congress on Archives in Paris in August 1950. Three hundred and fifty archivists from 30 countries discussed several issues, including how to handle modern records, microphotography, preservation of private and business archives, and publications on archives.

Solon J. Buck signs a copy of Archivium, the International Council on Archives’ first official journal, 4/10/1952. (National Archives Identifier 12167644)

By then Buck was no longer with the National Archives, so his successor, Wayne Grover, represented the Archives at the meeting. Holmes, who was also chairman of the SAA’s Committee on International Relations, and Margaret Cross Norton, state archivist of Illinois, represented the Society of American Archivists.

Following the meeting, Norton wrote a very detailed summary for The American Archivist, SAA’s quarterly journal.

Since then, the ICA has met every four years in an international congress (the United States also hosted an “extraordinary congress” in 1966).

Archivist Wayne Grover speaks before the Extraordinary Congress of the International Council on Archives, 1966. (National Archives Identifier 23854552)

At the International Congress in Vienna in 2004, participants adopted a resolution requesting the United Nations to create an “International Archives Day” to raise awareness about the importance of archives.

The following year, the UNESCO General Conference proclaimed October 27 as the “World Day for Audiovisual Heritage” to raise public awareness of the importance of audiovisual archives.

While the ICA supported this initiative, it knew that other archives needed attention. At the annual meeting in November 2007, the ICA decided to create “International Archives Day” to promote all archives, regardless of media. 

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