Critical Archival Concerns and Interests in the Development and Implementation of the National Information Infrastructure (June 1995)

A Position Statement Adopted Society of American Archivists, June 4, 1995
(Published in
Archival Outlook, July 1995.)

General Principles

Archives are an essential component of our cultural heritage and are fundamental to our understanding of our nation, our values, and our identity.

Access to archives enables citizens to hold governments at all levels accountable and responsible for their actions, and ensures that the rights of citizens and obligations of governments are upheld.

Statement of Interest

Archivists have primary responsibility for the identification, preservation, and accessibility of those documents necessary to provide an accurate record of the goals, actions, and achievements of the nation, its institutions, and its citizens. Computers and telecommunications technologies are dramatically changing the manner in which individuals and organizations communicate and conduct business and the way in which records are created, stored, and disseminated.

The National Information Infrastructure (NII) is central to the development of this new information paradigm and will radically alter the manner in which records are communicated and used. The nature, composition, and administration of NII is of critical interest to the archival profession, and this statement reflects the centrality of these developments to the future of records preservation and use. Therefore, the Society of American Archivists, the largest and oldest association of archivists in the United States, representing more than 3,000 individuals and 500 institutions, does herein state those concerns deemed essential in the further development and implementation of the NII.

Archival Concerns

1. Archival resources should be broadly accessible via the NII.

a. Archival resources include governmental, institutional, and corporate records, manuscripts, and personal papers. Such resources may be created digitally or be digital copies of records created in other media.1

b. Archival resources also include information describing records and specifying their physical and/or electronic location.

c. Networked information discovery and retrieval tools should be developed that can fully exploit the value of archival resources on the NII. Those tools should convey the origin and original purpose for creating the records.

2. The NII must support the creation and transmission of legally authentic records in order to fulfill its potential as an effective means of communication and an effective support for the rights of citizens.

a. The NII should incorporate methods that can overcome the transitory and mutable nature of networked records so that authentic records can be identified and maintained.

b. In our democracy, the availability of certifiable, authentic records is critical to the effectiveness and equitable operation of the judicial process, and other essential elements of governance.

3. The NII should support the capacity for the selection, preservation, and long-term access to records of enduring value.

a. The NII should incorporate archival methodology and practices to select records for preservation and access over time, based on their legal, fiscal, administrative, or historical value.

b. The expertise of archivists in the long-term preservation of records should be applied to ensure the availability of the electronic record of today for future generations.

c. The developers of the NII should draw on archival methodology and practice in identifying and preserving the records created by transactions on the NII.

d. In the electronic age, it is critical to address the long-term preservation of and access to records at the point of their creation, or the nation risks their becoming inaccessible or lost when their immediate use ceases.

4. The traditional archival commitment to open, fair, and equitable access to records should be an essential element of the NII.2

a. It is essential that affordable access be provided to records created using public funds.

b. In making records available on the NII, policies and practices should be implemented that ensure that the privacy rights of individuals are protected.

5. In providing access to archival records through the NII, there should be a fair and equitable balance between the rights of creators and other property owners and the needs of users.3

a. Fair use concepts and other exceptions to owners' rights conveyed in the copyright law should continue in the electronic environment.

b. Mechanisms should be available to allow fair and reasonable compensation for holders of intellectual and other property rights.

c. Original owners and archival repositories should be acknowledged, and when appropriate, compensated.