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ARCHIVES Home

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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 3

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 3

Subject:

archivists' views [was Re: nara and reclassification]

From:

[log in to unmask]

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Fri, 21 Apr 2006 13:29:30 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (71 lines)

Thanks for posting, Arel!

Arel makes some good points about why some archivists may not be 
speaking out.  I'd like to reinforce  one thing she said.  I think it's 
important to point out that archivists are not a monolithic group, 
their views and even their desire (or lack of desire) to speak out are 
going to vary.  That's okay.  These things are going to be influenced 
by any number of things, including where you work, how much freedom of 
speech your employer tolerates, what your job requirements are, and, 
perhaps, in a few cases, personal rather than professional factors, 
such as whom you vote for, etc.  I see that on other Lists, as well.

I'm not looking for a monolithic response here on the List.  I'm 
generally interested in how people view NARA and issues such as the 
public right to know, access, declassification/reclassification, etc.  
The one thing I hope we all agree on is that people with power in an 
archival organization should do their utmost to prevent their employees 
being placed in positions where they have to knowingly lie to the 
public.

One thing we haven't even touched on is the question, how long should 
high level government records be restricted?  When. is the right time 
to open records of government deliberations, especially when the topics 
are controversial?  I'm thinking both of unclassified records (records 
that never required security classification) and the declassification 
of classified records.  (The law that I worked with at the Nixon 
Project required release to the public "at the earliest reasonable 
date" of "the full truth" about "abuse of governmental power."  Boy did 
we take that one seriously.)

Not all archivists work with records that have a public interest 
component.  Quite the contrary.  Some archivists work with donated 
collections in the private sector where a family or other vested 
interests may tightly control who sees what in an effort to protect an 
individual's reputation.  The family may consider loyalty to the 
individual when negotiating donor restrictions.  The family may have a 
strong interest in exposing the positive aspects of someone's life and 
suppressing negative information.  They have the right to do that in 
some cases.

The situation is very different with government records, which often 
involve activities that affect every citizenin a number of ways.  Hence 
the need for statutory control.  The American public is the beneficiary 
client of the work of a U.S. governmental archives.  Of course, members 
of the public represent a broad spectrum of views and values.  In 
considering which records to release to them, a government archives 
does not take into account issues of personal loyalty.  Access 
decisions are nonpolitical and are applied across the board.  A 
government archives  serves the nation, not any one individual who held 
office in the past.  Of course, I can see why politicians might wish 
for a different approach.  But the laws are supposed to protect against 
skewed access decisions.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that what may work in a private 
sector setting might be catastrophic in a public sector setting.  And 
vice versa.

Maarja

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