The National Archives or an Archives?

As an Appraisal Archivist, it is up to us on behalf of the Archivist of the United States to ensure the public has records to inspect that document how the government has conducted its business. We ensure the public, such as lawyers, students, historians, and scholars alike have available evidence that documented the rights of american citizens, actions of Federal officials, and the national experience. Unlike many historical websites or so called “archival” sites, posting a small percentage of our holdings is not sufficient to hold our government accountable to its citizens. While it can be argued making billions of documents within our holding digitally accessible and searchable has a greater democractizing effect than our present model; we simply must be realistic. Should the goverment embark on such a global project? The Electronic Records Archives (ERA) will be a comprehensive, systematic, and dynamic means for preserving virtually any kind of electronic record, free from dependence on any specific hardware or software. ERA will change not only the way we preserve digtial records but all our traditional business processes will be altered as well. At the staggering cost of 340 million, ERA does not presently include a massive digitizing project of all our holdings now in paper form.

Do we proceed with the more hands off approach or introduce more implicit intrepretations of making some of our holdings available on the web? Many come to the archives because of its abstinence policy (free of historical intrepretation) and provenance. The National Archives is composed almost entirely of permanent records which are those that I help appraise as having sufficient value to warrant continued preservation by the Federal Government. These permanent records which are determined by their appraisal pursuant to legislation, regulation, or administrative procedure are no longer needed for current business within each agency. Although a “web archives” such as the American Memory Site, has millions of searchable and accessible primary documents, selective or intrepretative publishing for the National Archives in my opinion, does not preserve its greatist contribution to democracy nor responsiblity to our government and citizens.


~ by pencil on October 31, 2006.

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