Society of American Archivists
Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct
Annual Report 2008
Annual meeting sessions
The Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct (CEPC) developed or sponsored several sessions approved for the 2008 SAA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. CEPC members developed a session entitled Archival Ethics with Changing Practices: The Impact of Technology, and a session entitled The Ethics of Access: Does One Size Fit All?, moderated by former CEPC member Susan Davis. One submitted proposal on ethics and social justice was not approved as a traditional session but was converted into the Global Issues Forum: Archival Ethics and Social Justice: What Is Our Professional Responsibility? Another session endorsed by CEPC was Returning Displaced Archives: Legal and Ethical Perspectives, proposed by Elena Danielson.
SAA Code of Ethics
Since 2006 the Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct (CEPC) has been engaged in analysis and review of the current Code of Ethics and the possibility of developing additional guidelines regarding the professional responsibilities of archivists. At its 2007 annual meeting in Chicago, CEPC reviewed and discussed comparisons between the 1992 and 2005 Codes of Ethics, as well as comments (both published and orally conveyed) regarding deficiencies in the current (2005) Code. Prior to the 2007 annual meeting CEPC Chair Rand Jimerson compiled and distributed comments about ethical codes made in several recent publications and web postings. The discussion also included both criticisms of the current Code by CEPC members and reports of complaints heard from other SAA members. CEPC members Shannon Supple and Tim Pyatt subsequently compiled a comparison of the elements contained in the 1992 and 2005 Codes (see attached report).
At the August 2008 CEPC annual meeting in San Francisco, committee members in attendance unanimously expressed dissatisfaction with the Code of Ethics, and voted to examine options for revising the Code to address some of its perceived weaknesses. Although some SAA members would prefer a Code of Ethics with some “bite”—something that could be used in resolving ethical disputes—CEPC does not recommend such changes, which would entail significant administrative and legal obligations, expenses, and liabilities. CEPC members support an aspirational Code of Ethics, but one that more clearly reflects recent scholarship and professional discourse regarding archival ethics and the profession’s goals and identity.
As a result of these deliberations, CEPC plans to engage in further review of the SAA Code of Ethics and to make recommendations to Council and to SAA membership regarding revising the Code. CEPC hopes to present at least some preliminary recommendations by the date of the SAA annual meeting in Austin, in August 2009.
Memory for justice and archival ethics
The Global Issues Forum in San Francisco focused on issues raised in Memory for Justice, a report from a 2005 Johannesburg conference sponsored by the Nelson Mandela Foundation. During the committee meeting, CEPC members recommended investigating the report’s tenets as archival values and using them as a starting point for discussions about memory and justice, but did not think it was feasible to request that Council adopt them at this point. The Committee determined that it would recommend to Council that a link to the report be included on the SAA website (without any specific endorsement) and that Council commit to a series of sessions on archival ethics and social justice at annual conferences. Because this issue asks archivists to step outside their daily frame of reference for professional responsibilities, it seems appropriate to ask Council to create a forum, during the annual meeting but separate from the formal sessions, to discuss these issues. This need has been highlighted by the fact that for both the 2008 and 2009 annual meetings, the Program Committees have not accepted CEPC-sponsored session proposals on this topic.
Recommended Council action: CEPC proposes that Council commit to a series of annual meeting forums or special sessions, beginning in 2010 and extending for three annual conferences (2010-2012). This series would encourage conversations about the interplay between archival ethics, social justice, and the profession and would ask that individual archivists consider their own relationships to these issues. The series would not advocate a specific action but permit a range of experiences and responses and allow individual professionals to explore their own relationships to social justice in the profession.
- CEPC annual meeting minutes, August 2008 (draft pending formal approval in 2009)
- Memorandum comparing the 1992 and 2005 SAA Codes of Ethics (2007)
- Memorandum, “Concerns Regarding Professional Codes of Ethics” (2007)
Randall C. Jimerson, Chair
Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct
11 December 2008