Society of American Archivists
Advocacy Agenda (2012)
Because archival records ensure the protection of citizens’ rights, the accountability of organizations and governments, and the accessibility of historical information, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) believes that the archival profession must take an active role in advocating for the public policies and resources necessary to ensure that these records are preserved and made accessible. This Advocacy Agenda identifies a limited set of broad priorities that serves to guide the Society’s advocacy efforts in the public policy and legislative arenas. Requests for SAA’s commitment to a specific advocacy issue will be more vigorously pursued if that issue fits within these priorities.
The Public’s Right to Equal and Equitable Access to Government Information
American citizens have a right to know the actions and intentions of their government and its leaders. Government officials at all levels should assume that the public has the right of access to documents prepared by a government official or entity, including communications between government officials or entities. To ensure access, government officials have an obligation to preserve such records properly until they are appropriately reviewed, appraised, and declassified when appropriate. This preservation requirement applies to all records, regardless of format.
The Public’s Need for Strong Institutional Stewardship of the American Historical Record
The records found in our archives contribute to a more open and pluralistic society. Records are used by citizens in the pursuit of public accountability, transparency, civil rights, protection of corporate rights and responsibilities, continuity of civil operations, and good governance. To hold government accountable and to provide evidence of the diverse and complex elements of the human experience, it is essential that concerted efforts are made to preserve and make accessible a comprehensive and trustworthy American historical record.
The Public’s Right to Timely and Reasonable Use of Information
America’s first copyright act (1790) sought to strike a balance between encouraging the creation of new works and granting monopolies over knowledge, learning, and expression. Over time, both the scope and duration of copyright monopolies have increased, to the detriment of learning and broad creative expression. A more appropriate balance must be struck between the right of authors to benefit from the fruits of their labors for a limited time and the need of the public to use freely material for the greater benefit of society.
The Public’s Right to Personal Privacy in Certain Categories of Records
An individual’s right to privacy with regard to certain information—for example, records mandated by government, attorney-client records, and medical records—historically has been weighed against the public’s right to information. Personal privacy should be respected throughout an individual’s lifetime in appropriate ways. Documents recording private information about living Americans should be disclosed involuntarily only when disclosure accomplishes a greater public purpose.
The Public’s Interest in Adequate Funding of Archives and Archival Programs
The records found in our archives ensure administrative continuity, help hold government officials accountable for their actions, and create documentary sources through which we come to understand our society. Because of the importance of these functions, archival institutions at all levels of government and throughout society must be adequately funded. Funding should include sufficient resources both to renew and invigorate undervalued operations and to support innovative and transformative projects that enable archives to preserve extraordinary documentary resources for the public.
Adopted by the SAA Council, June 2012