International Archives Week: Accountability, Collaboration, and Diversity #EmpoweringArchives

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

The International Council on Archives (ICA) and the entire worldwide community of archivists celebrate International Archives Week from June 7 through June 11. The ICA is fostering a series of discussions this week on the theme #EmpoweringArchives. The goal is to focus attention on the ways archives support the values of our communities in three major areas:

  • Accountability and Transparency
  • Collaboration and Networking
  • Diversity and Inclusivity

These themes are central to NARA’s mission, vision, and values. NARA plays a robust role in accountability and transparency in the U.S. Government, collaboration and networking are how we work, and recently we have renewed our commitment to diversity and inclusivity to ensure that we are truly the National Archives for everyone in the United States.

In short, here is how the National Archives defines its mission and values. (Read our full mission, vision, and values statement.)

MISSION 

We drive openness, cultivate public participation, and strengthen our nation’s democracy through public access to high-value government records. 

VISION 

We will be known for cutting-edge access to extraordinary volumes of government information and unprecedented engagement to bring greater meaning to the American experience.

VALUES

NARA values reflect shared aspirations that support and encourage the agency’s long-standing commitment to public service, openness and transparency, and the government records that NARA holds in trust. 

  • Collaborate
  • Innovate
  • Learn

Accountability and Transparency

NARA’s role in accountability and transparency is even broader than our core archival mission to “Make Access Happen” for historically valuable U.S. Government records. NARA also houses several offices with government-wide influence on issues like freedom of information (the Office of Government Information Services) and classification and declassification policy (Information Security Oversight Office and the National Declassification Center). You can read more about what these offices do on their blogs: The FOIA Ombudsman, ISOO Overview, and the NDC Blog. Congress chose NARA for these offices because the National Archives is seen as a trusted broker, able to balance the government’s interests with the interests of the public in access to government information.

Collaboration and Networking

Collaboration and networking are an essential part of how the National Archives approaches its work. They ensure that we benefit from the best thinking available. By partnering with other institutions, we can participate in projects that advance our mission even when we didn’t initiate them ourselves. In other cases, like History Hub, we ourselves start a project and invite other institutions to join us. Some of our favorite access projects illustrate this collaborative spirit:

Diversity and Inclusivity

In recent decades, NARA has actively highlighted the value of our records for researching diverse experiences in the United States. More recently, it has supported employee affinity groups that celebrate and support staff in their unique life experiences and work with NARA records. However, the national protests and conversations that followed the murder of George Floyd in 2020 refocused our attention on issues of racial inequality. The Archivist of the United States formed a Task Force on Racism to recommend ways NARA should improve, both in the way it serves researchers and museum visitors and in the way it supports its own staff. The task force’s report is just the beginning of a new generation of work at NARA as we make anti-racism central to our mission.  

We are also taking steps to deepen our work with Tribal governments; an important step along this path is Archivist David Ferriero’s recent messages acknowledging the history of the land the National Archives’s headquarters occupy. And in April 2021, in accordance with a recent Presidential Memorandum, we issued our first-ever Tribal Consultation Plan.

This International Archives Week, NARA joins with our peer institutions around the world in celebrating the importance of archives to the societies we live in. NARA’s work contributes to the discussion about the role of archives in providing access to the records of government, a vital tool for transparency and accountability. NARA collaborates with others to advance our mission using the best ideas available, whether those are our ideas or those of colleagues. Finally, NARA acknowledges the power of records and archives to include—or exclude—the stories of all sorts of people, and we are working to become a more inclusive, equitable, and anti-racist organization. 

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