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Interview with Jeff James of the National Archives of the United Kingdom

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Jeff James CEO and Keeper of the National Archives of the United Kingdom

Interview Conducted by Kate Eminhizer

My formal interview with Jeff James occurred on November 28th, 2017. He and I had already met throughout the course of the conference; therefore, we had already established a bit of a rapport by the time the interview took place.

When did you assume your duties? What prompted you to accept the challenge?

I became the Chief Executive Officer and Keeper of the National Archives of the United Kingdom in July 2014. I wanted to further expand my leadership and managerial skills.

What is the mission of your national archives? How do you explain/present this to your funding authorities?

The National Archives is the custodian of the public record and the government’s trusted expert in managing, preserving and using information. We also manage the Crown Copyright and provide publishing guidance for all government publications. All funding comes directly from the treasury as directed by Parliament.

If you could tell me one thing special about your archives, what would it be?

The most important thing about our archives is the connection people can have with the records. While we are the keepers of some of the country’s oldest documents, such as the Doomsday Book, it is the relevance our contents have with the public that makes us special.

What international partnerships or collaborations do you have or are you working for (aside from ICA)?

Part of the National Archives’ strategic ambition is to increase our collaborations worldwide so that we may drive the development of archives around the world. We continually look for ways to expand and enhance our reputation in research and collections management. The National Archives has contributed records access to the International Research Portal for Records Related to Nazi-Era Cultural Property, and we have encouraged increased international participation in our digital preservation program PRONOM.

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?

There has been a ten-year decline in usage at the archive itself but our online access has increased by 400%. Digital technology will allow us to continue to increase the accessibility of our records to the public. There is also a large demand to digitize records. The increase in digital records will also force funding to be diverted to digital preservation.

What is your vision for the future of the national archives?

I see the future turning archives into a more digital environment. I also see the opportunity to increase educational programming at the archive.

What advice do you have for those beginning their careers in archives?

The biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone is to ask questions. Do not simply accept the status quo; challenge it to make it better.

Interview with ICA President David Fricker

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From left to right: Pam Lutzker (author of this blog post), ICA President David Fricker, Kate Eminhizer

David Fricker is an energetic individual, with a great sense of humor, who is very enthusiastic about archives.  He is the current President of the ICA, but my colleague, Kate Eminhizer, and I first met him as the Director-General of the National Archives of Australia (NAA) at the FAN Meeting preceding the ALA-ICA 2017 Conference. Director-General David Fricker’s understanding of the fundamentals of data, information, knowledge, records and archiving is breath-taking and his vision of the archival community working together to improve access to records (especially digitally) across boundaries is one of the reasons that he supports FAN. Although Director-General Fricker was very busy (he was also a Key Note Speaker for the Conference) he willingly sat down with us after the Emerging Professionals Luncheon the first day of the ALA-ICA Conference, November 27, 2017.

Director-General Fricker earned his BA in Computing Studies, and began his career in the Australian Customs Services, holding several important positions before leaving to found his own consultancy business. In 2002, he joined the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) as CIO and was appointed to the position of Deputy Director-General in 2007. Given this background in computer science, I was curious how he ended up in archives. He explained that it was a natural outgrowth of working with computers and data.  Data leads to information. Information leads to knowledge.  Knowledge comes from organizing and analyzing information and data.

The processes of selecting, preserving and making accessible records that are vital to the archival process ensure that accurate and reliable information is preserved – not only for the society, but for the individual. The way archives are viewed needs to change.  The immediacy of access to digital records is a game-changer for the archival community. There needs to be a conscious effort to move beyond preservation and limited access to reaching out to the community and becoming advocates on their behalf, thus showing the value of archives.

Director-General Fricker’s strengths in digital records management led to his appointment as Director-General of the NAA in 2012. In 2014, he was elected to the position of President of the ICA. At NAA, Director-General Fricker has worked to further electronic access to records. One of the most recent projects is a database of World War I service records (coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the end of the war). The database is designed to enable the public to upload information about the subjects of the records; and contribute their own material about the men and women that served during the first World War. This type of “crowd sourcing” provides the opportunity for the public to establish a personal relationship with the records, and in so doing keeps the memory of those individuals in the records alive and relevant to contemporary society. David pointed out that no matter which country you are in, the archive will always have something relating to any one individual, even if indirectly; and this differentiates Archives from other memory institutions. The more the public understands the personal connection they have to the records, the higher the demand will be to make those records available.

My final question to Director-General David Fricker was to ask for advice for those beginning their career in archives. He said that their ambition should include the democratization of information.  Not only should archival records be authoritative and dependable, but they should also be available to anyone anywhere.

 

Planning Committee Forming for International Archives Day, June 9, 2018

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From the International Council on Archives website:

“The ICA believes that effective records and archives management is an essential precondition for good governance, the rule of law, administrative transparency, the preservation of mankind’s collective memory, and access to information by citizens.”

On June 9, 2018, member of the archival community are being encouraged to show that our profession is fun, inclusive, varied and that our expertise is helpful to everyone. iSchool students and alumni can once again take part in this international event!  Last year 3 students presented lessons learned from their experiences working on the International Directory of National Archives.  This year, we want to highlight your thoughts on the value of national archives. If you’re interested in writing a blog post, participating in a webinar, or have other ideas, contact Dr. Pat Franks at patricia.franks@sjsu.edu   We’ll begin planning our event(s) in April.

A video highlighting some of last year’s events can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=XGx6UIs3WGs And scroll down our IDNA blog to find out how we celebrated International Archives Day last year.

Guy Berthiaume, National Librarian and Archivist of Canada – Interview by Pamela Lutzker

 

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Dr. Guy Berthiaume

I sat down to speak with Dr. Guy Berthiaume on the first day of the 2017 ALA-ICA conference.  Dr. Berthiame is the National Librarian and Archivist of Canada. He earned his doctorate in history at the Université Paris VIII in 1976 and worked in academia until becoming involved with archives at the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BAnQ, the Library and National Archives of Quebec), where he served as Chair and CEO.  Dr. Berthiame moves easily between French and English, and is active in promoting francophone organizations like the Reseau francophone numerique (RFN).

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Pam Lutzker

The national archives of Canada, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), is unusual in that it combines the national archives with the national library. I asked how this arrangement differed from most other national archives. Dr. Berthiame enthusiastically described how the two areas complement each other. The library is very public-focused, always looking for ways to get more people to come in and get involved.  Archives are more inward-focused. Their mind-set is more “If they build it, people will come.” Working with librarians has helped the archivists to become more open and to work to bring in the public.

I asked about special projects at the LAC. Dr. Berthiame noted that all of the Canadian WWI military records will have been digitized and put online in time for the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I (11/2018). The LAC is also actively working to collect records and information about the history and culture of the indigenous people of Canada, also referred to as the First Nations. Dr. Berthiame said that archives are important because they are the beginning of the chain for change.

Funding for the LAC is an on-going effort. Dr. Berthiame noted that the people who make the financial decisions in the government understand the importance of records and archives but are pulled by competing prioritiesincluding issues like poverty and disaster relief. The case for funding the archives must be made with the understanding that there are other priorities. With that in mind, he has brought to the table groups seeking private money to help fund different programs.  

Dr. Berthiame said that two issues in archiving keep him up at night. The incredible amount of digital records and the fact that information is increasing exponentially, which requires making plans to accommodate those records. The Canadian government has instituted an information governance planbut did not include the national archives in the process. So the national archives now has to work within the existing system to develop a plan that will allow for records no longer of business value to be transferred to the archives.

The increase in number of digital records is only going to become more challenging as government officials begin to use more social media. Dr. Berthiame noted that the Canadian Prime Minister likes to tweet as much as the U.S. President.  The national archives will be held responsible by future generations of historians if those records are not captured and archived as well.

At the conclusion of the interview, I asked Dr. Berthiame what advice he would give to those beginning a career in archives.  He replied that it is important to keep your mind open.  Don’t think that the profession as it is now will remain that way forever.

ALA-ICA Conference

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Kate Eminhizer

When given the opportunity to participate in a major international conference, you take it. That is exactly what I and fellow student Pam Lutzker did in November 2017 when we travelled to Mexico City to attend the ALA-ICA Conference. Student participation was promoted by Dr. Ian Wilson, former Director of the Library and Archives of Canada, former Vice-President of the ICA and current advisor to the National Archives of the United Arab Emirates. The trip also had the support of Dr. Sandy Hirsch of the SJSU iSchool. In addition to participating in Conference Logoconference sessions, Pam and I were extended an invitation to observe the annual meeting of the Forum of National Archivists (FAN). The overall intent of the trip was to grant students who had worked on the International Directory of National Archives the opportunity to converse and network with some of the archivists of those archives.

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From left to right: Pam Lutzker, Dr. Ian Wilson, Kate Eminhizer

The theme of the conference was “Archives, Citizenship and Interculturalism.” It marked the first time that the ICA conference was hosted by a Latin American city. The Latin American Association of Archives provided a culturally rich atmosphere for professionals from around the world to discuss achievements and challenges within the archival community. Both ALA President Mercedes de Vega and ICA President David Fricker felt that it was imperative to provide an opportunity for professionals in the field to reflect upon the challenges facing the archival community. Sessions at the conference focused on the following topics: interculturalism and native cultures, human rights, illicit trafficking of documentary heritage, archives and artistic creation, archives and academic projects, access to information in relation to personal data protection, natural disasters, regional cooperation, copyright and intellectual property, information systems and digital preservation, big data, and information governance.

As someone who has attended conferences in other disciplines, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of inclusion I experienced. It did not matter to a single person that I was “only” a student. Whether I was speaking with another student or the director of a National Archive, I was treated with respect. There was not a sense of intimidation so commonly found in a room full of established professionals. I felt completely at ease participating in sessions and working with the United Arab Emirates delegation to advertise and promote the 2020 ICA conference in Abu Dhabi. The experiences I have had due to my participation on the IDNA project have far exceeded my expectations.