| Emergency plan for dealing with accumulations of records and archives in government services: a RAMP study |
|3. Phases in the implementation of the emergency plan|
The emergency plan therefore involved inventorying the premises, cleaning them and appraising and classifying the documents so as to separate those to be preserved from those to be disposed of and, finally, remodelling appropriate repositories for the conservation of the documents.
A government service that has produced documents for nearly 40 years without archiving is bound to have amassed enormous quantities, except at times when it has disposed of them arbitrarily. In addition, in the absence of specially designed repositories, makeshift storage places multiply, so that it is difficult to assess them. Indeed, in the case of Tunisia, ministries which were sufficiently in control of the situation and possessed a thorough inventory of their premises and archives were rare. Accordingly, it was necessary to take stock of the places where the documents had piled up, and to determine their size and the types and quantity of documents that they contained, so as to be able to plan the appraisal and classifying operation.
3.1.1 Inventory methods
There are various methods:
- Inventory by correspondence, which entails sending out forms to those responsible for the structures of the body in question and requesting them to complete them. Apart from the risk of not receiving a reply, or not receiving the results at the right time, the quality of the inventory could, in this case, be defective, especially if the agent who draws it up has not been properly briefed.
- Inventory by means of interviews, which entails having a meeting with the person in charge and drawing up the inventory on the strength of it. The results may be immediate, but may be incomplete or incorrect for, in this type of situation, it is rare that officials are fully familiar with their institutions' archival premises.
- Physical inventory, performed directly in the places concerned by suitable staff. There is, in this case, a better chance of a satisfactory outcome.
We opted for the last method of work. The working groups for the various ministries and government bodies chat were responsible for carrying out the inventory received appropriate training.
Two standardized forms were prepared, which were the subject of practical work at the training session organized for chat purpose. Two types of forms were selected' one form for each of the premises and one recapitulative form for each ministry. The following information was requested:
- Description of the premises:
· location (geographical address);
· type (office, depot, warehouse, store-room);
· surface area in square metres.
- Shelving used:
· description of the shelving elements, their type and their storage capacity in linear metres.
- Quantity of documents:
· evaluation of the bulk of the documents in linear metres, including shelved documents and those merely dumped.
- Identification of documents:
· origin, department producing the document and subject by major theme (several articles);
· extreme dates.
- Special characteristics:
· to be mentioned in an 'observations' column example: unretrieved documents pertaining to another ministry, etc.
On the recapitulative form, the information requested was as follows:
- number of premises (for the ministry's departments, and for the establishments under its supervision) and their surface area;
- quantity of documents.
It was recommended to the groups in charge of the inventory that they carry out a meticulous investigation in order to identify as many premises as possible. Initially, it was suggested that the inventory be carried out over approximately 45 days, but later it was found that this length of time was insufficient for some ministries with extensive ramifications, such as the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Agriculture. It would have been counter-productive to rush the government services and obtain unsatisfactory results.
In addition, it was planned to control the quality of the inventories through surveys on the basis of visits to the premises to verify the accuracy of the data.
Visits were carried out by advisers instructed by the Prime Minister to monitor and follow the progress of the emergency plan in the ministries.
Yet the inventory work was not always easy. Many difficulties arose. Sometimes it was necessary to clean the premises beforehand in order to separate the documents from the administration's discarded objects (old furniture, etc.). At other times, employers who were unfamiliar with the development and background of the body in question found it difficult to identify its documents, especially when they were relatively old (more than 10 or 15 years). Identification became even more difficult if the documents belonged to another department which had been abolished or relocated.
At any event, in this first phase of document identification, it is difficult to insist that the groups in charge of the inventory give many details on the origins of the documents. Mysteries will be elucidated, if need be, at the time of the description of the documents, which is a more meticulous operation. On the other hand, there is a need for rigour as regards quantity and classification of documents; vague wording such as 'miscellaneous documents' or 'general documentation' must be rejected. In fact, we had to reject a number of inventories which were too imprecise and did not meet the goals set. The government departments concerned were obliged to start their work afresh.
There is a need to conduct the inquiry meticulously, as it will largely determine the numbers of staff and the amount of resources to be employed in implementing the plan, as well as the work schedule. It is also necessary to collect the inventory sheets within the time-limits set, so that the data on them can be used. The case-study showed that government services which failed to hand over the inventory sheets in time to the working group in charge of the emergency plan, subsequently reported a delay in the implementation of the plan.
3.1.2 Use of the data
The inventory, as designed, led to the gathering of much useful information, not only for implementing the emergency plan but also for the subsequent stage, i.e. setting up a modern records and archives management system.
It was henceforward possible to know exactly what quantity of documents had been accumulated by each State body. In the case of Tunisia, the results were sometimes surprising.
The quantity of documents was a key factor in the scheduling of the implementation of the emergency plan. Combined with the time allowed for the implementation of the plan, this information served to determine the number of people needed for this task. It is difficult, however, to establish a norm or a coefficient linking the volume of documents and the number of people needed. We shall return to this point later when we tackle the problem of document appraisal and classification.
It is also interesting to highlight the number of premises and the surface area allocated to the storing of documents, many of which have lost all usefulness and are worthless as State property. It is even more interesting to note the surface area of the premises rented, when necessary, to store this type of document. How the documents inventoried are distributed within the different structures of the same body is also a useful fact to know. Lastly, it is also important to know the age of the documents; this indicates any reductions that may have occurred through arbitrary or involuntary destruction (such as the flooding that has affected the premises of some government services).
All these facts can be found by going through the description sheets of a repository or recapitulation sheets. These facts should be brought together in a consolidated report to be submitted to the minister or head of the government service concerned. The resulting assessment will serve in the first place to alert those in charge and induce them to become aware of the seriousness of the situation. This report will be even more striking if it is accompanied by an album of photographs of the premises in question, which will then form a basis for comparison of the situation before and after the completion of the emergency plan.
The assessment or consolidated report also gives an indication of the human and material resources to be assigned to the plan. There is a need to put forward all possible arguments to induce the decision-makers to grant the necessary funds for this programme and to acknowledge the urgency of an operation which, although temporary, offers many advantages: recovery of premises cluttered by stocks of documents that have often become outdated, decongestion of work places, improvement of the image of the government service in the eyes of the general public, and so forth.
This is the most important practical and intellectual operation to be carried out during the emergency plan. Its purpose is to separate the documents from the objects accumulated in the same premises, to identify sets of documents according to their origins and finally to separate, if only in a rough and ready manner, the documents for permanent conservation from those prepared for destruction.
3.2.1 Working groups
Before starting the document appraisal and classification operation, the working groups must be set up. A number of questions arise. Should a central group be formed that will visit a whole ministry, including the establishments under its supervision, or should small groups be formed in each structure? Should the members of the group work only part time for the plan, or should they be seconded full time? What is the profile of the members of these groups? How many members will each group have? What working hours should be adopted? Is there a special form of remuneration? etc.
In the case of Tunisia, we opted in most cases for a small group in each of a ministry's different structures and in each government establishment. We did so for two reasons:
- the employees of a given structure are always in a better position than others to identify the documents generated by their own structure, and are able to describe them;
- because they are directly involved in the execution of the emergency plan, each government structure or establishment becomes aware of the consequences of the anarchic situation of the documents and of the need for an effective records management policy. They should not be led to suppose that this matter concerns another authority (in this case the National Archives) but should be made aware that they are directly concerned.
This choice implies the existence, in these different groups, of employees who have received prior training. In fact, in the Tunisian example, those persons who had taken a two-week training course before the start of the appraisal and classification operation were not properly shared out among the various government structures and establishments so as to cover all the groups that had been constituted. Different solutions were adopted to remedy this shortcoming:
- the groups in question were briefed by the adviser instructed by the Prime Minister to provide technical assistance and monitor the emergency plan in a given ministry;
- the employees who had received training instructed the other members of the working groups;
- training sessions or information days were organized for employees in the same ministry.
The full time assignment of members of the working group to the emergency plan is more effective than their part-time assignment, in that the employee can thus concentrate more on this operation instead of being torn between the two tasks that he/she must carry out alternately in the course of the same day or throughout the week. Moreover, the example of a ministry where the assignment was on a part-time basis proved the inefficiency of this method.
To ensure the stability of the working groups, the assignment of the employees must be decided by the head of the government service, the reason being that certain offices tend to avoid the assignment of their own staff to the emergency plan, owing to a shortage of staff to perform their everyday tasks. The assignment decision must be taken by a senior official of a ministry or the head of a government establishment.
The staff in charge of the emergency plan should have two types of profile:
- labourers or unskilled workers who will carry out the cleaning and handling of goods;
- employees who will carry out the appraisal, classification and shelving of the documents.
The latter must have a level of education at least equivalent to the baccalaureate in order to be able to describe the contents of the documents and draw up the lists.
The number of persons to be assigned to the plan depends on two parameters, i.e. the volume of the documents to be processed and the time allowed for the emergency plan. According to the evaluations carried out in the case that concerns the present study, a month's work to clean up a storage area that contained 75 linear metres of documents was needed on average for a group consisting of three employees assigned to the appraisal-classification operation and two unskilled workers. The effectiveness of the group was greater when it was headed by a supervisor who had the equivalent of a Master's degree in higher education (baccalaureate and four years of university education). In any case, each group must be headed by a member who has received appropriate training, even if the other members of the group have the same level of education.
There is no doubt that the staff assigned to the emergency plan will often have to work in very difficult conditions. For greater motivation and to counteract the frustration that this difficult task may cause, it is worthwhile to introduce a special allowance for these agents during the plan. It is not only the amount of this allowance that will have an effect on the persons concerned: the gesture in itself will be perceived as adding prestige to the reorganization and conservation task, which is often wrongly regarded as degrading. As with all budgetary expenditure, the special allowance will be subject to regulations and the necessary budgetary operations.
Although a specific case, the method adopted in the Tunisian operation was edifying. The special allowance was calculated on the basis of overtime hours. But as the regulations set a quota of only 150 overtime hours per person per year, a new presidential degree was issued so as to waive this rule and enable the employees concerned to work up to 550 hours of overtime per year during the emergency plan. The effect of this exceptional measure was to come to an end on the official date for the completion of the emergency plan. This new regulation was the subject of two circular letters from the Prime Minister defining the implementation and urging the various government services to take the necessary steps to make suitable provision in their draft budgets for the following year.
During the implementation of the plan, changes in the constitution of the working groups may occur, e.g. members may leave and others may arrive; but such mobility must not result in a change of all the group's members, since this would necessitate a resumption of training and learning and would adversely affect the work of document appraisal and classification.
3.2.2 Appraisal and classification techniques
After cleaning and refurbishment of the premises, the appraisal-classification operation of all the documents collected must be carried out. It should be stated beforehand that the aim is not to conduct a definitive appraisal or classification, for the following reasons:
- this operation is carried out by unqualified persons who are unable to perform it according to the techniques in use in this sphere and who, often, are not sufficiently familiar with the structures of the body in question;
- there are no standards (appraisal chart or conservation timetable) which would make a systematic appraisal possible, since such tools take a long time to become established, in addition to the need for sound experience of archives administration;
- a methodical classification would also require research and documentation on the specific tasks and forms of organization of the document-producing services.
Accordingly, this appraisal and classification operation aims at achieving the following:
- separate the files and archival documents, on the one hand, from library and documentation service documents, on the other;
- weed out the documents that are in an advanced state of deterioration for disposal;
- gather together the documents on the basis of the structures of a single ministry or government establishment;
- identify briefly the contents of the documents in the description units which are to contain many documents (files, boxes or even a group of boxes), at the same time proposing:
· destruction of documents which do not visibly contain information rendering them eligible for permanent conservation;
· permanent conservation for the remaining documents;
- store the documents properly in conditions conducive to the conservation.
We shall endeavour to develop the various points mentioned above. In many cases, the depots that housed the documents also served to store various kinds of objects such as discarded furniture, spare furniture, technical equipment, etc. The reorganization of those premises therefore consisted in ridding them of all items superfluous to the documents themselves.
The first appraisal, then, consists in separating archives from other documents. In fact, the government services which disencumber themselves of their documents do not distinguish between files and archive papers proper and other documentary material such as books, periodicals and reviews. Sometimes printed matter, unused envelopes and even other stationery are found mixed up with the documents.
Documentary materials other than archives may, in some cases, be channelled into the appropriate library or documentation units, whether in the body concerned or elsewhere. If they are of little interest, they will be disposed of through recycling or sold to second-hand booksellers, as appropriate. 'The gazette' in which governmental decrees are published may be given special treatment. If copies of this publication are numerous, annual collections can be constituted to be used by different branches of the same body. Special attention will be paid to what is customarily called 'grey literature' or 'administrative documentation', i.e. studies, surveys and other works produced by the civil service and distributed on a fairly limited scale.
The first appraisal operation therefore consists in reconstituting sets of archival records. However, in view of the often anarchic way in which the documents have been deposited, it is not easy to lay hands immediately on the documents of a single department or structure. Hence the appraisal must be carried out according to the structures of a single ministry or government body, in accordance with the principle of source. Thus, by gathering together documents on this principle in all the premises where they have been stored, we shall be able to reconstitute archive groups.
This initial classification must precede any operation of document description or summary of records, since it is more convenient to produce a document description after an appraisal has been carried out on the basis of origin. The standardized lists prepared for the description of the documents according to origin are of two kinds: lists of documents for permanent conservation and lists of documents for disposal. The description operation therefore works in conjunction with an appraisal to classify the two categories of documents.
Appraisal and description of documents are the most sensitive archival operations. Since they will be carried out by relatively unqualified persons, any disposal of documents not authorized by the National Archives must be prohibited, so as to prevent the illicit destruction of certain documents. The description of the documents, whether they are proposed for permanent conservation or for disposal, is carried out at the level of each set of premises and separately for each service producing them. It is made up of the following components:
- a serial number for each item or description unit. The item is usually a box of standard size: (35 cm x 25 cm x 10 cm) or a bundle;
- the subject of the documents included in the description unit or item. The description must be brief: it is not necessary to go into details of files or papers;
- extreme dates: the earliest and the latest year of issue of the documents figuring in the description;
- a column is set aside for comments where particulars concerning the documents may be given, such as the type of medium, form, state of preservation, etc.
The quality of the description must be checked by senior specialists. This verification must take place without fail at the beginning of the operation, and every time that new staff are assigned to the emergency plan.
The document description makes it possible to identify the documents and also to reconstitute the holdings of the different services. Identification will probably help to highlight certain documents whose primary value is skill high and which could, on occasion, serve the purposes of the government department. However, the main purpose of identification will be to prepare for the transfer of the documents to the National Archives.
Since there is a heavy backlog, it is preferable by means of this emergency plan to carry out a primary appraisal and to give even a brief description, so that documents deposited subsequently obey minimum rules of organization and are not transferred in disorder. Otherwise, the staff of the National Archives will spend a considerable amount of time sorting them, both physically and logically. Most countries are not so fortunate as to have enough archive staff to cope with such an accumulation.
The appraisal and description of the documents therefore results in the identification of two groups of documents: those proposed for permanent conservation and those proposed for destruction.
3.2.3 Destruction of documents
Tunisian legislation is unequivocal on the disposal of public archives, which can be carried out only on the advice and under the technical supervision of the National Archives. Government services therefore cannot dispose of documents without having completed the necessary formalities. The lists of documents proposed for destruction are sent for endorsement to the National Archives.
Under the emergency plan, it was initially suggested that there should be no destruction until the plan had been completed. However, it later transpired that by following this rule many government services had become encumbered in the very process of the appraisal and shelving of documents which had hitherto been left in disorder. To relieve the congestion of the premises and to allow the plan to continue, it was decided to dispose of the most severely damaged documents, i.e. documents which had become irretrievable owing to their advanced state of deterioration (very often due to flooding, damp premises or long exposure to the sun). Other categories of documents can be disposed of without delay, especially documents on financial management whose drafting dates back more than ten years, to which no requirements any longer apply, and which are not consolidated documents. Certain documents on personnel management can also be destroyed. The disposal of documentation and library material was mentioned in paragraph 3.2.2 above.
Disposal thus authorized and carried out is a reliable means of relieving government services and enabling them to manage their premises more effectively. They can thus keep to the work schedules.
Given that most ministries did not have archive services and were not equipped to implement the emergency plan appropriately from a technical point of view, it was decided to set up a team of professionals, documentation specialists and university lecturers in library science to be responsible for monitoring and more effective planning of the work.
3.3.1 Technical assistance and monitoring the progress of the work
The members of this team were required by the Prime Minister, under contract and in accordance with terms of reference, to provide technical assistance to the working groups set up in the government services to implement the emergency plan. For each ministry, an adviser was appointed to manage the establishments under its supervision. In some cases, one adviser took care of two ministries. In others, owing to the scale of the administrative machinery in certain ministries, two advisers were appointed in each. The ministers were officially notified by the Prime Minister of the appointment and the assignment of the advisers.
Meanwhile, the central group that had carried out the preliminary study and proposed the emergency plan was made responsible for co-ordinating and monitoring it at the national level. The group's assignment was as follows:
- raise awareness among the senior officials in the ministries;
- monitor the advisers' action;
- centralize investigation of technical questions and procedures as required by the implementation of the plan;
- report to the authorities on the progress of the plan and the difficulties encountered so that the public authorities could take appropriate decisions.
The advisers spent on average two half-days per week with the working groups and travelled to government services located outside the capital. They explained to the employees concerned how to carry out the appraisal and classification operation, and, when necessary, hosted awareness-building or training sessions. They verified the lists established for the description of the documents to ensure that this important operation was technically sound.
The advisers' task was indirectly one of monitoring. It was through the reports that they drew up every two months on average, as well as the meetings which they held on that occasion with the central working group, that the Prime Minister's authorities were able to keep track of the plan's progress in the various government services.
Those meetings were propitious occasions for discussing specific or general questions raised by the execution of the emergency plan.
The advisers' periodic reports underscored the quantity of documents processed, their percentage in relation to their initial volume, the difficulties encountered and the operations concerned with the cleaning and ordering of the premises for the conservation of the documents. These reports also mentioned the working sessions held by the advisers with the groups carrying out the appraisal and classification as well as the visits they made to the interior of the country chat would serve to justify their special allowance.
Besides the regular meetings with the advisers, the central working group had occasion to intercede directly with the principal private secretaries or secretaries-general in some ministries to find a solution in cases where difficulties had been pointed out. At the same time, the group carried out verification and inspection assignments, especially in the interior of the country. These assignments were the subject of reports addressed to the authorities concerned.
At the same time, the central group organized fairly regular meetings with those in charge of the implementation of the emergency plan in the ministries so as to explain the procedures for executing the plan and the measures or decisions that had been taken for that purpose (inventory of premises and documents, special allowance for employees working within the framework of the plan, scheduling of the work, etc.).
The tasks of monitoring and follow-up proved to be both highly sensitive and essential. It is not always easy to harmonize some 20 ministries and hundreds of government establishments. The diversity of the situations to be managed calls for availability, dedication and know-how. Often chose in charge of the plan at the level of ministries do not find their supervisors sufficiency understanding and receptive for the plan to be executed smoothly. In ocher cases, the financial services are not over-zealous in meeting the plan's implementation needs or do not earmark enough funds for the purpose.
The monitoring and follow-up of the execution of the emergency plan must be based on a work schedule.
3.3.2 Scheduling the work
For a number of reasons, a target date should be set for the work to be executed in each ministry and government establishment. The words 'emergency plan' imply that the tasks in question are to be carried out within a definite time frame. Since the emergency plan is part of a national strategy for the organization of public archives, it must be kept to specific deadlines.
A single deadline must be set for all government services, even if they prefer variable target dates chosen according to their own assessments.
As regards the case selected for this study, the time frame set was 18 months (from July 1993 to the end of December 1994). In fact, on the strength of the inventories that had already been drawn up prior to the beginning of the appraisal and classification operation, we knew that the time allowed would not be sufficient for a number of ministries which consisted of several structures, such as the Ministries of Finance, National Economy and Agriculture. But it was better to adjust the deadline on the basis of the time necessary for implementing the plan by a majority of government services, even if a minority completed the plan after the specified time-limit.
The Prime Minister fixed the deadline in a circular letter sent to ministers so as to give it a binding character. It should be said that at the outset the emergency plan was not to have exceeded one year, but in view of its late start in many ministries, the deadline was extended by six months. The beginning actually coincided with the summer season, which is an annual holiday period for many civil servants and during which the official working hours are reduced to a single daily session.
Once the deadline has been set, each ministry and government service must schedule the work to be carried out within the time allowed. Admittedly, this is not a straightforward operation, since several factors are involved, namely, the quantity of documents, the number of premises to be refurbished and their geographical location (the staff must take turns to travel to the premises located away from the administration's headquarters), the number of people assigned to the emergency plan, the quality of their work and especially their productivity.
For all those reasons, it was not possible to ask for the schedule to be drawn up immediately after the start of the emergency plan. It was only a few months into the operation that the same circular letter from the Prime Minister was sent to government services requesting them to draw up a schedule. Standard forms were prepared for that purpose and had to be filled in and returned to the National Archives, about six weeks after the dispatch of the circular letter. The government services probably gained from the experience already acquired in carrying out the various operations, but they encountered a number of difficulties in drawing up a precise schedule, chief among which were:
- the lack of objective standards by which to gauge the productivity of the task of appraisal and classification;
- the impossibility of knowing precisely what proportion of the documents should be preserved and what proportion disposed of, when contemplating the documents assembled in bulk;
- the possibility of coming across other documents which had not been entered in the existing inventory.
Of course, the scheduling forms should none the less not be filled in carelessly or regarded as a mere formality. In any case, the schedule will serve as a management chart for the person in charge of the plan's implementation, even if it has to be adjusted more than once.
However, one serious matter was observed in that, in some cases, the scheduling forms were filled in on the basis of the deadline set for the plan's completion and not on the basis of the two important parameters already cited, namely, the number of persons assigned and the quantity of documents to be dealt with. Thanks to the advisers' two-monthly report, however, this was noticed and it was ascertained that the plan's execution did not match the schedule. As a result, in these cases, the emergency plan was in danger of not being completed on time. It is wiser and more realistic to set time-limits for the plan's completion on the basis of a ministry's real possibilities, specifically in the light of the two parameters mentioned above and taking into account the material resources available.
Apart from the working groups and their supervisors, the implementation of such a programme requires specific material resources and the remodelling of premises.
3.4.1 Policy on material resources
Before reviewing the material resources that the implementation of an emergency plan necessitates, it will be useful to describe the policy following in the Tunisian case.
It should be stated first that the few archive services which existed in ministries and government bodies did not have clearly defined budgets. They depended upon the good will and inclination of the finance departments and the officials with power to authorize expenditure. The funds therefore allocated to the 'archive' function were derisory, yet the execution of the emergency plan called for the mobilization of more substantial funds than the administration proposed to grant.
The policy followed to procure the requisite funding was based on different methods, i.e. legislative controls, planning and restriction of resources. In order to set up a system of special remuneration, it was necessary to go beyond the legislation in force, which permitted only a small special allowance. The only possible choice, in fact, was to attribute to staff members an aggregate of 150 hours of overtime per year. A presidential decree was issued to introduce a more favourable system, applicable exclusively during the emergency plan to the staff members who were assigned to it.
It does not always suffice to have official regulations if the necessary conditions for their enforcement are not met. Indeed, this decree was published at a time when the budgets had already been voted. Planning is therefore needed in order to obtain the requisite funding by following the proper procedures for preparing the State budget. This entails including appropriations in the draft budgets (both for management and for equipment) to cover the corresponding expenses. The requests made must be justified to the authorities concerned by discussion of draft budgets and by their adoption. This procedure must be followed by all government services. Decision-makers must therefore be won over beforehand and must endorse such an approach.
It is more expedient that each service should devote a proportion of its budget to the emergency plan, however small, than that funds should be concentrated on a single institution, in this case the National Archives. This makes government services more accountable. It should be pointed out that, in the case that concerns us, an overall appropriation was provided by the Prime Minister to pay the groups in charge of monitoring and co-ordinating the emergency plan's implementation.
A third aspect of the policy on financial resources is the appropriate use of available funds. As it is strategically important to make a success of the emergency plan, it must not fail for lack of financial resources. It is consequently important to be able to make the best use of the resources available: to retrieve boxes containing documents to be disposed of, to repair broken boxes, to resort to the use of bundles if there is a scarcity of boxes, and to install inexpensive temporary shelving (wooden if necessary), etc. This course can be followed until planning of financial resources yields favourable results and the sensitization campaign leads to fuller awareness of the importance of archives.
In fact, the operation of reorganization, appraisal and classification of documents in itself does not need as much financial input as the purchase of equipment and the remodelling of premises for use as archives.
3.4.2 Equipment and remodelling of premises
The anarchic accumulation of documents had been compounded by neglect of the premises which housed them, so that documents were continually piling up in the premises which did not meet the requirements for their proper conservation. Given the lack of appropriate premises in most government services, the emergency plan scheduled the fitting out of new premises. Each ministry and government body was required, by the end of the reorganization operation, to fit out a repository for the conservation of its documents and archives. This remodelling had to be approved by the National Archives and the fire brigade.
It should be said that this measure was also in line with strategic options in national policies on archives. It was decided that government services would keep their intermediate archives under their authority and would transfer only their definitive archives to the National Archives. Each government service had to fit out a repository for that purpose.
The National Archives provided a technical adviser to help government services with this task. It was necessary to study the functionality of the premises, the layout of the shelving, safety matters, etc. Owing to the lack of specialists in the government services, the National Archives provided technical assistance free of charge upon request. There is a need to teach decision-makers a number of rules of conduct. As decision-makers are not accustomed to investing in this kind of premises, it is important that they be shown that this type of investment is neither superfluous nor unproductive, since fitting out a repository according to established standards is more worth while than allocating several premises without modernizing them. Similarly, the accumulation of documents scattered throughout several offices takes up space that could be used by employees as work places. The organization of documents also helps to improve the image of government services in the eyes of the general public.
The modernization of archive repositories must take into account certain rules so as to:
- separate areas reserved for storage from those intended as work places for archives staff;
- provide suitable working conditions in the premises set aside for the staff;
- guarantee minimum conditions for the proper conservation of documents, with appropriate humidity and temperature controls;
- make the premises safe against fire, flood (especially if they include a cellar) and theft.
Regulations must provide for the approval of the National Archives prior to any modernization of premises, and particularly if it involves the construction of new buildings, so as to able to apply the requisite standards and prevent any wastage or inappropriate construction work. The slight experience gained from the construction of archive buildings during the implementation of the emergency plan, revealed a loophole in the legislation on public buildings. As a result, it was envisaged to propose a draft decree to make it compulsory to provide for archive repositories in all plans for administrative buildings and to consult the National Archives on this type of project.
Besides the modernization of premises, the emergency plan calls for the provision of equipment, especially shelving. The policy followed in this regard is to use all available means, including the recycling of old items, until practices become established in the civil service and greater investments can be made in this field. When those in charge see the improvement in the archive situation with modernized premises and documents on shelves, this will induce them to invest more resources in archives and records management.
Another of the policy's aims as regards funding was to resist the preconceived idea that the organization of documents was an expensive operation. The investment that it actually requires is not heavy, apart from the funds needed to acquire and equip premises. This investment, however, pays dividends over a long period. Decision-makers must be shown how the organization of documents results, on the contrary, in gains for the administration through a more rational use of premises and equipment.
Handling the emergency plan therefore calls for a management team well versed in administrative practices and sound management, with archives administration at their fingertips. It means being very familiar with the workings of the civil service and with the habits and outlook of those in charge, and knowing just how to raise awareness, by convincing and carry one's point. All these requirements play a part in bringing the emergency plan to a successful conclusion.