Values before technology

In the 21st century it’s still all about what archives are. I doubt that there are really non-intentionally created documentary by-products of human activities – nor today in our distinctly self-reflexive times, nor in the past which we could consider as less reflexive. What is non-intended is the analytically extractable information which may tell a different story from the one explicitly handed over by archiving.

Consequently, what is decisive is the value-orientation: democracy, rule of law including transparency, accountability and opportunities for general participation in all decision making from global to local level. That demands non-technical responses to our today’s challenges. It’s not about records management, nor about appraisal or description – it’s about findability, accessibility, understandability, usability and reusability, connectivity. If records are the best mean, ok – if not, archivists should first put these fundamental values to practice with whatever means are in use today.

In the digital society, under conditions of e-government, e-commerce, e-science and a lot of more e-activities, it’s urgent to modernize the methodical arsenal of archiving and eventually even be inventive to help the institutions in their jurisdiction to cope with the unavoidable digital turn, mentally and in daily life. This changes the archive’s position from a mediator between e.g. public administrations and an interested public to being part of one network with many stakeholders with equal rights in which cooperation becomes more important than just service delivery.

By Andreas Kellerhals, former Swiss Federal Archivist