The role of archives

This is a piece of major frustration in my work life right now and it has to do with the role of Archives.

It all started with the old intranet, when it was retired and taken off-line, questions have been asked by my colleagues in the IT department about what we should do with the documents which sat on the intranet, how we archive them and where is the “final resting place”.

I suggested that we bring in the University Archives, who is responsible for the collection, maintenance, and preservation of the official records of the University. I don’t for example make judgement about whether the procedural document of Food Services is worth keeping, because it is not my job nor am I qualified to make that judgement.

Also in my view we do not just involve the Archives when we retire an IT service and ask them to appraise individual files without the context.  An archivist would ask question about the file structure, the access system, who accessed it, and how was it used… Appraisal is based on context, or the entire record keeping system and the importance of individual items depends on how they relate to one another within a system – this is something difficult to do when the VM hosting the intranet has been killed and the UI taken offline.

It needs to be said though that my IT colleagues did exercise due diligence in their way by contacting the business owners of the documents in various offices and asking them whether they wanted to take copies of the files.

Here is the heart of the problem: who makes decisions on what records to keep?

I only just realised that Archives’ role, especially when it comes to digital records, is not commonly understood. A colleague literally told me that “archives are perceived as a museums with artifacts, and have no authority over digital records”.  It is also the same person’s believe that University Archives’ access to the intranet files should be determined by the “data stewards” of the business areas – they are appointed by the University’s Information Governance Committee and are “responsible for the appropriate access, use and safekeeping of specific domains of information generated or gathered by the University”.

I wonder how much the Information Governance Committee thinks about digital archiving and preservation. I wonder if for them a record has a lifecycle and a retention schedule.


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