“Designing the Archives in the 21st Century”

Designing ‘archives’ in the 21st century is a more radical and challenging task than it was in the 1900s. It seems to me that the delineations of and barriers to archives ownership and archives custody have all blurred and even disappeared whilst defining archives, records and information has become less straight-forward. In the era of community archives, big data and digital curation it is difficult to understand all the complexity and figure out what it is we should be doing as archives and records management professionals. How should we set priorities and balance the sometimes conflicting responsibilities of selection, preservation and access provision?

Archives are places, they are records and they are a resource not just for the 21st century but for all the centuries to come. For me, designing the archives is not about a physical space to house the archive collections but an attitude or ethos that allows us to absorb and reflect the views and needs of 21st century society whilst remaining true to our calling. That calling is surely to preserve and facilitate access to the written, primary source heritage that documents the story of all humankind through the ages.

This can be done on a small, local scale by helping a community identify and manage its archives, or on a larger scale by developing standards, guidelines or training for the global archival and records community. As a consultant I often find myself advising clients and mentoring their staff in a modest way. As ICA Training Officer I aim to develop high quality affordable training and learning opportunities and possibilities which are increasingly available online – a more ambitious activity that relies on the support of ICA’s amazing network of members who volunteer their knowledge and skills as well as the expertise of the ICA Secretariat team. The training programme is designed for our global community of new and experienced practitioners, wherever they are in the world, to provide them with the capacity to design their own archives in a way that is clearly centred on their own people.

By Margaret Crockett, ICA Training Officer