Interview Conducted by Kate Eminhizer
While attending the ALA-ICA conference in Mexico City in November 2017, I had the privilege of speaking with Majid Sultan Al Mehairi, the Executive Director of the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates. His areas of expertise include information technology, digital preservation, government records and leadership.
When did you assume your duties? What prompted you to accept the challenge?
I became the Executive Director in May 2008. I was previously the Director of the Department of Support Services and Head of the Information Technology Section at the National Archive. Accepting the position provided me with the opportunity to continue advancing the country’s electronic management system and to focus on project management.
What is the mission of your national archives? How do you explain/present this to your funding authorities?
The National Archives concentrates on collecting government records and those records that have national value. This is mandated by the government, so they ensure that there is appropriate funding available to be successful in that mission.
If you could tell me one thing special about your archives, what would it be?
A. The National Archives works very hard in making sure that records are accessible to the public. The more people who access the Archives’ records, the more connected they will be to the nation’s cultural heritage. There are many apps that the public can download to their mobile phones so that they may learn and interact with the nation’s history quickly and accurately.
What international partnerships or collaborations do you have or are you working for (aside from ICA)?
The Archives is very supportive of the vision of UNESCO PERSIST. UNESCO PERSIST is an international effort to advocate for the long-term preservation of digital documentary heritage. In late 2018, the Archives plans on being able to make available online the product of a collaboration with the National Archives of the United Kingdom. The Arabian Gulf Digital Archives will exhibit over 500,000 reports, letters, maps, and ships’ logs that pertain to the history of the region.
How much has the work of the national archives changed in light of digital technology? How has this impacted the way records are accessed by the public?
In 2017 the United Arab Emirates launched the UAE Artificial Intelligence Strategy. The purpose is to introduce the latest technology into all aspects of government to improve performance and efficiency. The date by which the country is striving to be fully digital is 2031, but the hope is to complete the transition for government records by 2020. Having born digital records would mean there would be less of a delay in providing access to those records to the public.
What is your vision for the future of the national archives?
The National Archives has a vision of preserving those records that best exemplify the nation’s history and cultural heritage. As more and more records are created in a digital format, appropriate metadata must be applied from the date of creation. Also, long-term digital preservation options must be a priority.
What advice do you have for those beginning their careers in archives?
It is best for everyone to embrace technology. The advances in technology are going to provide multiple options for the long-term preservation of our cultural heritage.