Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ethics, Accountability, and Recordkeeping

For many decades archivists and records managers have seen electronic or digital records to be the major challenge they face in managing records and recordkeeping systems. The literature, from gloomy predictions of the demise of the profession to rosy assessments of new and expanded possibilities of administering our documentary heritage, has poured from journals for years. There have been major research and development projects intended to solve the challenges posed by the digital systems. And there have even been popular writings by pundits from outside the records community wondering about the specter of the loss of a generation or more of society’s documents.

There are reasons to question whether it is technical issues that are the greatest problems for archivists and records managers. Partly pushed by the development of the global information infrastructure, archivists and records managers are being challenged by a host of new challenges, such as intellectual property ownership, ethical issues in how archival and records holdings are administered, privacy constraints and contests, increasing needs for security, growing stress by government for secrecy, and the role of accountability as a guiding principle in records work. From my vantage, I believe these issues, and others of this ilk, are emerging as the dominant and more pressing concerns faced by archivists and records managers.

In the past month, a new book of mine -- Ethics, Accountability, and Recordkeeping in a Dangerous World (London: Facet, 2006), 1-85604-596-X – has been published. My intention is not to review my own work, but instead I will simply reproduce the publisher’s description, as follows:
The new book . . . covers a wide range of recent issues and controversies related to the mission and work of archivists and records managers. The essays contained in it consider both the practical issues of administering records and the much more contentious issues related to public policy and recordkeeping. The book is intended to push both archivists and records managers to reconsider their notions of the ethical dimension of their work and how they define their societal and organizational priorities.
Cox explores current issues confronting records professionals - such as censorship, intellectual property, truth and recordkeeping, and the control of government records and information - that may seem to threaten the integrity of their work and redefine the way in which they view their mission. Many of the essays reflect on the notion of whistle-blowing and its implications for archivists and records managers.
This significant text will challenge archivists and records managers to re-think their own perspectives about such matters, asking if their professional associations' ethics codes are sufficient, given recent challenges to the control of records and information in government agencies, corporations, and even cultural institutions.
Key topics include:
• From accountability to ethics, or when do records professionals become whistleblowers?
• Testing the spirit of the information age
• Searching for authority: archivists and electronic records in the new world at the fin-de-siècle
• Searching for recognition: does strategic information have ARMs?
• Why the nomination of the Archivist of the United States is important to records professionals and society
• America's pyramids: Presidents and their libraries
• The world is a dangerous place: recordkeeping in the age of terror
• Technology, the future of work, and records professionals
• Records and truth in the post-truth society
• Censorship and records
• Personal notes: intellectual property, technology, and unfair stories
• Archiving archives: rethinking and revitalizing a concept.
With a foreword by Sarah Tyacke former chief Executive of the National Archives this important debate is of great interest to records professionals and archivists worldwide needing to know how the issues will impinge on their work.