Archives in the 21st century

In the 21st century, archive management and the nature of archives themselves will be largely shaped by the latest information and communication technologies. These technologies and their exponential development will prompt radical changes and major alterations to archive management systems (collection, sorting, classification and communication) and the storage media and curation systems used. Archivists themselves will be affected, since these new techniques will need to be built into their training processes.  

What can be expected in the 21st century? Widespread use of digital technologies, of course. Then, there is artificial intelligence, which is set to take over more than half of the tasks conducted by human beings today.  In the 21st century, there will be humans on Mars, the Moon and probably other planets such as Pluto. Research into landing spacecraft on comets is progressing fast and space travellers will also need to be able to communicate with Planet Earth. Nor should we forget that rising sea levels will force nations to create underwater towns or cities.

Digitisation of traditional archives (paper and audio-visual documents) will have been completed. Changes and reorganisation worldwide will remove all national and regional barriers and technology will bring everything closer together. Information will be available simultaneously and immediately.

The links between the producers of archives and national and regional repositories will be so tightly interwoven that it will be nigh on impossible to distinguish between archive curators and archive producers, since all will have access to archives at the same time.

As in other areas of international relations (trade, justice, transport), agreements or treaties will be signed on common and standard methods of managing archives to keep pace with technological progress, not least with regard to the language used, exchanges of teachers and trainers, course standardisation, archiving and recordkeeping internships. Shared satellites will be available to enable colleagues in different parts of the world to participate in conferences. Standard methods and forms for each stage in the management process, including response to questions raised by experts, will have been developed and will enjoy the benefits of automation.

Where producer services are concerned, interim repositories will undergo similar changes. Use of new technologies in archiving will obviate the need for middlemen. The regulations in force will allow individual departments the freedom to deal directly with the national archives using the pre-set forms mentioned above.

Electronic chips that today act as simple remote transmitters will be transformed into databases capable of both storing and transmitting information. Archives will be fully equipped with the technology they need to operate round-the-clock in association with those who produce the data, providing them in return with any necessary information or decisions.

One thing that will remain unchanged will be the relationship between consumer (researcher) and archive, but only until researchers decide to deal directly with the national archives. Here again, formalities will be kept to a minimum, in other words the only requirement will be to obtain access rights. Once these have been obtained, no need to be physically on the spot, since all the requisite information will be delivered directly to the individual’s mobile phone.

Such is my vision of the archives of the 21st century.

By Matemboni Akpakala Mabongo, Director, Curator.