| Access to archival records: A review of current issues: A RAMP study |
Since 1990, archival thinking throughout the world has focused on the changing context in which archives operate. This has been mainly inspired by the soul-searching that is customary on the eve of a new century. From the resulting body of literature, three general areas of change have emerged as being of main concern to archives. The first relates to changes in the governing systems of countries, and of government-citizen interactions, that have resulted from globalization and the emergence of new democracies. The second relates to advances in technology, particularly as they affect information creation, administration, and dissemination. The third relates to the evolution in the nature and form of records which is the result of the first two set of changes.
As we advance towards the year 2000, archives must commit themselves to strategic shifts in both their philosophical and practical orientations. Where access to archives is concerned, the environment must change in three general areas. First, the access frameworks of institutions must reflect the renewed relationship between archives and their creator and user communities. On the one hand, archives have to develop mechanisms that enable them to be more receptive to the needs of users and they must also be willing to actually respond to these needs. On the other hand, archives must plan for the provision of access services to holdings that, in a post-custodial age, may not be under their immediate physical custody. Secondly, there must be greater archival intervention in the records creation and administration process. Given the prominence of electronic information - and its inherent particularities - archives must increase their involvement at the front-end of the information life-cycle to ensure that an understandable and useable record survives. Finally, archives must adopt descriptive strategies that proceed from the general to the specific, whatever the physical medium of the record, so that users are able to assess the information value of the records within their proper intellectual context, and then select what is most relevant to their needs. Such strategies must also enable access to the holdings from a distance and with as little case-by-case archival intervention as possible. If archives are able to adapt accordingly, they will increase their visibility with both records creators and users, and will find themselves in a strategic position in the world of information providers.