The Right of Access vs. Cultural Privacy

Heather Kohles
Heather Kohles

In my research capacity for the International Directory of National Archives I researched the national archive of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Alele Museum, Library and Archive.  In my time researching the Alele I came across the Marshall Islands’ National Archives Act of 1989.  This act spells out the various functionaries governing archival retention for the nation.  Included in the act are provisions that no records available to the public can be duplicated as a whole or in part without the written consent of the archivist.  Furthermore, it is understood that the Archivist has the right to deny consent if the reproduction of said record will not be in the best interest of the nation.

In addition, to my research role, I also was tasked as the project coordinator for the IDNA project.  This allowed me access and review of all the country profiles submitted to the project.  I found situations like those spelled out in the Archives Act of the Marshall Islands to be very similar to other nations who wish to safe guard the dissemination of their cultural information.

This might seem counter intuitive to those of us who have grown up in a nation where cultural objects are preserved and made available, especially now with social media and Archive 2.0 platforms, promoting access and retention of archival digital surrogates.  We have come to correlate preservation with the right to free and open access to those items being preserved.  However, other nations, as a reflection of their social, political or religious environments passionately preserve their culture for those in the culture.  For whatever reason, policies for such private cultures protects the integrity and flow of information within the culture it was created, which in turn makes us as researchers responsible for maintaining ethical access practices to ensure international cultures are preserved according to their standards and not “western” expectations.


Alele Musuem, Library and National Archive (2000). National Archives. Retrieved from:

The Republic of the Marshall Islands (1989). The National Archives Act of 1989. Retrieved from: