David Fricker’s Opening statement for International Archives Week 2020 : “Empowering Knowledge Societies”

David Fricker

David Fricker

ICA’s theme for this year’s International Archives Week is “Empowering Knowledge Societies”.

UNESCO has envisaged a “Knowledge Society” as one in which individuals are empowered by increased access to information. In the modern world, information is power and universal access to information distributes that power equally across all sectors of a society, providing everyone an equal opportunity to make informed choices, play a constructive role in their community and engage fully with public discourse and democratic processes.

Unfortunately, another characteristic of our modern world is the rising level of misinformation and disinformation. A mature Knowledge Society brings with it a high level of “information literacy”; equiping the population with resources and competencies to distinguish authentic, reliable information from the confected and false information designed to mislead or pervert public opinion.

Most importantly for the ICA community, UNESCO emphasises the centrality of Archives and Libraries to the realisation of the Knowledge Society, and encourages all member states to develop and implement frameworks for the preservation and access to documentary heritage, including in digital form.

Archives contain the collective memory of humanity, preserved by one generation for the next. In this way, Archives represent a foundation for a Knowledge Society, and a key resource for the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Turning to a more immediate and urgent issue, we must also deal with the dreadful consequences of COVID19 – a global pandemic that has disrupted almost every aspect of our lives, with a terrible loss of life across many nations. At times like this, times of crisis, we in the Archives community have two important duties: to ensure that we are accessing our knowledge of the past; and ensure we retain the lessons of our present experience.

In recent weeks, ICA has worked closely with IFLA, UNESCO and other like-minded organisations to produce two important statements, highlighting the role of documentary heritage in responding to the pandemic, and the importance of documenting the actions and decisions now being taken; preserving them as a knowledge resource for the future.

These statements, available through the websites of ICA and UNESCO are entitled :

• ‘Turning the threat of COVID-19 into an opportunity for greater support to documentary heritage’ and
• ‘COVID-19: The duty to document does not cease in a crisis, it becomes more essential’.

Important decisions are being made by governments around the world, involving huge interventions in markets, healthcare and the daily lives of billions of people as they seek to secure the social, economic and cultural wellbeing of their populations and uphold the rule of law.

It is essential that the basis of those decisions, the decisions themselves and the senior decision-makers involved are thoroughly documented in order for governments to remain accountable both during and after the emergency and for future generations to be able to learn from our actions.

It is also vital that we maintain the digital preservation of these digital records in accessible formats, as information assets for our future Knowledge Society.