International Archives Week 2020

Today’s post comes from Meg Phillips, External Affairs Liaison at the National Archives. 

The week of June 8 is International Archives Week, chosen to celebrate the founding of the International Council on Archives (ICA) on June 9, 1948. (Read more about the origin of the ICA and NARA’s role in it here.)

This is a week to celebrate the great work done by archives all around the world. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) also uses International Archives Week to recognize the remarkable—and resilient!—worldwide professional community of archives and archivists of which our staff is a part. 

This particularly difficult year is giving us new reasons to celebrate the importance of archives and the courage and creativity of archivists. In many countries, we archivists are providing access to records and information even when the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented us from working with colleagues and researchers in person or accessing archives buildings.

The ICA chooses the theme of International Archives Week to correspond with the theme of the upcoming ICA conference. The theme planned for the fall 2020 meeting in Abu Dhabi was to be Empowering Knowledge Societies. The sub-themes on which the ICA solicited papers give an excellent snapshot of some of the hottest topics for the worldwide archives profession:

  • Artificial Intelligence, Digital Preservation, and Emerging Technologies: What do they do well? What can they help us do better? How do we engage with these new practices? What are the ethical implications?
  • Sustainable Knowledge: How we protect our holdings from climate change, theft, looting, and illicit trafficking. It is also about looking beyond what is done to the archives and records institutions and examining our impact on society and the environment.
  • Trust and Evidence: In the age of ‘alternative facts,’ ‘fake news,’ misinformation and cybersecurity threats, the need for trustworthy evidence (records, information, data) has become ever more essential. What is our role in this space? Who are our allies?  What is the role of records and archives professionals in the area of internet governance?

Unfortunately, the best-laid plans for a lively discussion with our colleagues were overtaken by the coronavirus pandemic. Now archives buildings are shuttered and meeting and travel plans are disrupted worldwide, so the meeting has been postponed by a year.

OK, so we won’t be doing what we planned, but archivists cannot be stopped. The ICA quickly developed an interactive map on which archives can share their operating status during periods of shutdown, quarantine, or “circuit-breaker” periods—and provide links to online services like reference, online exhibits, or other digital offerings that archives can provide even without access to our buildings. 

ICA’s “Archives and Records Are Accessible” Map

ICA’s “Archives and Records Are Accessible” Map features NARA’s headquarters in Washington, DC, Presidential Libraries, and NARA field locations all around the United States, alongside around 600 other archives providing what services they can in similar circumstances.

This spring the International Council on Archives also partnered with UNESCO Memory of the World, ARMA International, the Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC), and others to issue a statement on the importance of records in a time of crisis: COVID-19: The duty to document does not cease in a crisis, it becomes more essential.  

  • Decisions must be documented.
  • Records and data should be secured and preserved in all sectors.
  • The security, preservation and access to digital content should be facilitated during the shutdown.

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), the government’s Freedom of Information Act ombudsman’s office and a component of NARA, wrote an excellent blog post calling attention to this statement, an earlier UNESCO statement, and the International Conference of Information Commissioners’ involvement in it: The Importance of Preserving Pandemic Records

The Importance of Preserving Pandemic Records

In another celebration of International Archives Week, researchers and archivists are contributing their thoughts about the importance of archives in a social media campaign completing the sentence (and using the hashtag) #AnAchiveIs. For example, for me #AnArchiveIs . . . one of the pillars of democracy, providing citizens (and noncitizens) with information about what the government is doing in their name.

Archives are important all the time, but during the pandemic shutdown, archives are particularly critical. In addition to the reasons outlined by the international joint statement, NARA and many other archives are playing a leadership role in the transition to electronic recordkeeping. As we see every day working from home, only well-managed electronic records are accessible in any circumstances to support societies and governments. This is one of many ways NARA works to “Make Access Happen,” and our focus on successful electronic recordkeeping will serve the United States well by providing more accessible records for many years to come.

This International Archives Week, please join us in celebrating the resilience, ingenuity, solidarity, and necessity of archivists and archives records during this time of worldwide public health crisis. #AnArchiveIs . . . necessary!

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