Archival Roles for the New Millennium

August 26, 1997

The Society of American Archivists (SAA) is the authoritative voice in the United States on issues that affect the archival mandate. SAA works to monitor and address consistently and effectively all matters of policy that affect the ability of archivists to meet their responsibilities or that affect the creation and preservation of the documentary record. SAA is particularly concerned that the archival dimensions of technological, commercial, and governmental policy issues must be articulated and raised in the public consciousness. These include:

  • mechanisms for the creation of reliable, authentic, identifiable, accessible, and manageable records of government, institutions, and society in general.
  • the sustainability and viability of electronic documentary formats and media.
  • intellectual property regulations that promote the use of new technologies to expand access to records and other documentary materials.
  • development and adoption of standards and protocols that facilitate identification, description, communication, longevity, and access for both traditional and electronic forms of documentation.
  • provision of adequate financial and policy support to fulfill legal, institutional, and societal mandates.
  • mechanisms and policies that ensure the prompt declassification of federal records whose secrecy requirements have passed.
  • means to ensure that the management of individual archival programs follows the norms of the profession so that the archivist's distinct role and responsibilities are not compromised by political, institutional, or other considerations.
  • accessibility of public records and documentary cultural property, regardless of format, to the public at a reasonable cost.

SAA seeks opportunities to examine and comment on public and information policy issues which directly affect the ability of archivists to fulfill their core responsibilities to society. SAA works with its coalition partners and allied professions to ensure that emerging policy issues related to archival concerns are addressed and that the archival perspective is clearly articulated.

This perspective is informed by centuries of archival work to meet essential societal needs. The mission of archives and archivists is to secure and help people use authentic records thereby ensuring the availability of evidence and the preservation of cultural heritage. Archivists meet this responsibility through their work in governmental, corporate, and non-profit settings.

As society moves into the new millennium, global telecommunication and computing technologies are changing the way individuals and organizations communicate and do business. Moreover, these dramatic changes are occurring at a time of changing societal dynamics. Nevertheless, the fundamental archival roles and responsibilities remain the same but also are more important than ever. They are to:

  • manage cost-effective archival programs for the selection, retention, and use of both electronic and paper documentary materials.
  • ensure that an authentic and reliable record is created and available for use.
  • evaluate the universe of available documents and record-keeping systems to select those to preserve for future use.
  • preserve and document the context and arrangement of the materials retained for long-term use.
  • provide descriptive tools, such as registers, indices, and databases, to allow records-keepers, researchers, archivists, and others to locate and identify the information and evidence in archival holdings.
  • preserve information and evidence in a protective environment and in a format or media that will remain usable over time.
  • promote and help people use archives to explain the past, support accountability for the present, and provide guidance for the future.

The archival contribution and challenge for the future is to adapt our responsibilities to the new information environment and shape that environment to maintain institutional accountability, assist in effective and efficient record-keeping, and document and preserve heritage. At the same time, we need to strive to increase the base of resources available for all archival work. The pace of change in information technology, society, and institutions only makes these tasks more complex. Thus, archivists are committed to playing a major role in the formulation of information policy.

For SAA to be effective in serving as the profession's active and authoritative voice on these and other issues, its members and allies must be diligent in monitoring the information policy environment. We must identify specific issues on which SAA should consider taking a position or issuing a statement or standard. Success requires both rapid dissemination of SAA positions and active members prepared to draft language on specific issues so that SAA Council can respond quickly to policy opportunities and needs.

For further information contact:

Society of American Archivists
17 North State Street, Suite 1425
Chicago, IL 60602-3315
fax 312/606-0728
toll-free 866/SAA-7858
info [at] archivists [dot] org