Fifth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Archives

Alerted in my emails this morning that today, 10 November 2016, marks the fifth anniversary of the adoption by UNESCO of the Universal Declaration on Archives. It’s drafting and adoption was an important step and congratulations to those in the ICA that worked so hard on making it happen.

Universal Declaration on Archives


The declaration has been a source of much inspiration for me, particularly in pondering what the following statement means for those who childhoods have been severely impacted upon by child welfare regimes, and have had to fight so hard to get their rights to access their records recognised.

Open access to archives enriches our knowledge of human society, promotes democracy, protects citizens’ rights and enhances the quality of life.

So I have to say a little underwhelmed that signing up to a register is the only action that we are being asked to take to live up to this statement. To me it ups the ante. We can’t get away with just saying ‘archives are good’. We have to be asking ourselves much deeper and harder questions about whose needs they serve. Inspired here by the words of Anne Gilliland during keynotes on her September 2015 Australasian visit, to move beyond just being an infrastructure for information elites. As archivists we talk a lot about accountability, yet we seem to have very few mechanisms to hold our own frameworks, processes and systems to account.

And access is just not that simple. Whose rights do our systems privilege? Whose rights do they trample upon? Whose quality of life is enhanced? And whose are not?