Society of American Archivists
CODE OF ETHICS FOR ARCHIVISTS
Draft Revision for Member Comment (February 1 – April 4, 2011)
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[NOTE: The following is a revision of the 2005 text. Proposed deletions appear as
strikethroughs; proposed additions appear in italics.] Preamble The Code of Ethics for Archivists establishes standards for the archival profession. It introduces new members of the profession to those standards, reminds experienced archivists of their professional responsibilities, and serves as a model for institutional policies. It also is intended to inspire public confidence in the profession. This code provides an ethical framework to guide members of the profession. It does not provide the solution to specific problems. The term “archivist” as used in this code encompasses all those concerned with the selection, control, care, preservation, and administration of historical and documentary records of enduring value. I. Purpose The Society of American Archivists recognizes the importance of educating the profession and general public about archival ethics by codifying ethical principles to guide the work of archivists. This code provides a set of principles to which archivists aspire.
Archivists support standards that bring fairness and transparency to their professional responsibilities and that inspire public confidence in the profession. Because archival holdings make possible alternative narratives toward the path of truth seeking, archivists seek to ensure that the power of archives will be open equally and fully to all members of society.
The Society of American Archivists is a membership organization comprising individuals and organizations dedicated to the engagements that arise between researchers and documents past, present, and future. Archivists are defined here as those individuals who are concerned with the selection, control, care, preservation, and administration of historical and documentary records of enduring value for the benefit of current users and future generations. Archivists endeavor to ensure that the materials in their care will be available and reliable as evidence of human activity.
The Society endorses this Code of Ethics as standards for the profession. This Code is linked with the “Core Values for Archivists” within the context of providing guidance to archivists, and of serving as an introductory overview of the archival enterprise to the rest of society.
This Code exists to increase awareness of ethical issues among archivists, their colleagues, and users. It also validates guidelines that members may consult for reflection on actions and decisions that occur within the profession and that influence the authenticity of the archival evidence that belongs to every community, state, and nation. As advocates for documentary collections and cultural objects under their care, archivists aspire to carry out their professional activities with justice and equity.
II. Professional Relationships
Archivists select, preserve, and make available historical and documentary records of enduring value. Archivists cooperate, collaborate, and respect each institution and its mission and collecting policy. Respect and cooperation form the basis of all professional relationships with colleagues and users.
Archivists cooperate, collaborate, and respect other archivists and other archivists' institutions’ missions and collecting policies. In their professional relationships with colleagues and users, archivists are fair, unbiased, respectful, honest, and courteous.
Archivists should exercise professional judgment in acquiring, appraising, and processing historical materials. They should not allow personal beliefs or perspectives to affect their decisions.
Archivists exercise professional judgment in acquiring, appraising, and processing collections in order to ensure their preservation, authenticity, diversity, and enduring cultural and historical value. Archivists should carefully record their collections-related decisions and activities to make their role in the selection, retention, or creation of the historical record transparent to researchers. Archivists should consult with colleagues, relevant professionals, and communities of interest to ensure that multiple perspectives inform their actions and decisions.
Archivists should not profit or otherwise benefit from their privileged access to and control of historical records and documentary materials. They execute their work knowing that they must ensure proper custody for the documents and records entrusted to them. Archivists should demonstrate professional integrity and avoid potential conflicts of interest with their institutions. They strive to balance the sometimes competing interests of various archival stakeholders.
and Integrity Archivists strive to preserve and protect the authenticity of records in their holdings by documenting their creation and use in hard copy and electronic formats. They have a fundamental obligation to preserve the intellectual and physical integrity of those records. Archivists may not alter, manipulate, or destroy data or records to conceal facts or distort evidence.
Archivists ensure the authenticity of records in their holdings by documenting and protecting the identities of records and guaranteeing that the intellectual and physical integrity of records is not compromised by tampering or corruption. Archivists may not willfully alter, manipulate, or destroy data or records to conceal facts or distort evidence. They document any actions that may cause changes to the records in their holdings.
Archivists strive to promote open and equitable access to their services and the records in their care without discrimination or preferential treatment, and in accordance with legal requirements, cultural sensitivities, and institutional policies. Archivists recognize their responsibility to promote the use of records as a fundamental purpose of the keeping of archives. Archivists may place restrictions on access for the protection of privacy or confidentiality of information in the records.
Recognizing that use is the fundamental purpose of keeping archives, archivists promote open and equitable access to the records in their care by minimizing restrictions and obstacles and maximizing access tools. Archivists work with donors and originating agencies to ensure that any restrictions are appropriate, well documented, and equitably enforced, and that they contain an end date. Archivists minimize psychological barriers to access by providing timely and helpful reference service. Archivists know their own holdings well enough to formulate and disseminate institutional access policies and strategies that maximize responsible use.
Archivists protect the privacy rights of donors and individuals or groups who are the subject of records. They respect all users' right to privacy by maintaining the confidentiality of their research and protecting any personal information collected about them in accordance with the institution's security procedures.
Archivists recognize that privacy is sanctioned by law, but protected in practice by their own actions. Archivists review records carefully to protect the interests of the donors, individuals, and groups whose public and private lives are recorded in them. As appropriate, archivists place access restrictions on collections to ensure that privacy and confidentiality are maintained, particularly for individuals and groups who have no voice or role in their creation, retention, or public use. Archivists promote the respectful use of culturally sensitive materials in their care by encouraging researchers to consult with communities of origin, recognizing that privacy has both legal and cultural dimensions. Archivists respect all users’ rights to privacy by maintaining the confidentiality of their research and protecting any personal information collected about them in accordance with their institutions’ policies.
VIII. Security and Protection
Archivists protect all documentary materials for which they are responsible and guard them against defacement, physical damage, deterioration, and theft. Archivists should cooperate with colleagues and law enforcement agencies to apprehend and prosecute thieves and vandals.
Archivists protect all documentary materials for which they are responsible. They take steps to minimize the natural physical deterioration of records and guard them against accidental damage, vandalism, and theft. Archivists cooperate actively with colleagues and law enforcement agencies to apprehend and prosecute vandals and thieves.
IX. Law Archivists must uphold all federal, state, and local laws.
Please see the following reports submitted by the Committee on Ethics and Professional Conduct (CEPC) to the SAA Council at its Jan. 27-30 meeting for background and details regarding revision: