4.9. Access to records in records centres
When records from different ministries and departments are deposited in a Records Centre there will be an aggregation of records from various creating agencies A cardinal principle of Records Centre management is that the records that are in the Records Centre remain confidential and exclusive to the depositing agency. This is as it should be. There are even cases where this is taken to unfortunate extremes with such records remaining the property of the depositors who are thus free, for instance' to withdraw the records permanently. Whatever the situation however the Records Centre provides a unique opportunity for decision makers to widen their decision making base. Whether in a manual or automated Records Centre System the records transfer lists will be there to show which other records have been deposited. In an automated Records Centre System it becomes easy to locate relevant records which exist in other ministries and departments. Such a facility should be made available to all decision makers with the important provision and restriction that when records are located access is not directly given by the Records Centre but that those then seeking access are directed to the relevant creating agency to obtain permission.
It can be seen therefore that a systematic records retirement system and the deposit of records in Records Centres is important to the decision making process. The problem that seems to exist at the moment is that the mechanisms for facilitating the decision makers access to such information are to a large extent non-existent. To begin with, as noted previously thirty-four of the respondents did not even have Records Centre facilities and even more importantly those who had did not have facilities to publicise the existence of such information to those decision makers who had need for it.
A key service that Records Centres should provide is enhanced access by decision makers to information contained in records and archives. In most instances the main instrument by which records creating agencies know what has been transferred to the Records Centre or Archives is the copies of records transfer lists which are retained by their own registries. Forty six institutions indicated that there was easy access in the record creating agencies to the records transfer lists while sixteen institutions indicated in the negative. It was also interesting to note that only nineteen institutions with Records Centres were able to affirm that they had facilities that enabled decision makers in the ministries and departments to know what material had been deposited by other ministries and departments in the Records Centre. Thirty six institutions did not have such facilities meaning that decision makers by and large had access only to those records that they themselves had created. Computerisation of the finding aids is of course a pre-requisite for the facilitation and widening of access to records and archives. And yet only eighteen institutions had automated or begun to automate their finding aids. Forty seven institutions had not. This situation is obviously most unsatisfactory especially when viewed against the cost of Information Technology that has significantly come down in the past ten year. When businessmen today can afford to travel on an aeroplane with a portable Personal Computer, there is no real reason why archival institutions should not embrace the modern technology and begin the process of automating the finding aids. It is accepted that the information to be input requires a large disk or tape storage capacity but it should be possible to make a start somewhere even if that is by automating the indexes to the descriptive lists or by inputting summaries of titles of the records held.
To the decision makers the message is simple. The Records Centres contain a massive wealth of information which is needed in decision making. This information is at the moment by and large inaccessible and this has impaired the decision making process leading to decisions based on incomplete information or to the duplication of effort. The Records Centres need to be encouraged to facilitate access by decision makers to this information and they need to be allocated the resources to enable them to modernise their facilities and thus improve access. Any such investment would cost justify itself in terms of savings that will be made as for instance duplication of effort is reduced or eliminated and as costly errors are avoided. Some of the consequences of failure to access required information have already been demonstrated.
It has become generally acknowledged at various international forums that the greatest need in providing information to decision makers is affording access to the wealth of unpublished and inaccessible information that is contained in Records Centres and Archives. Published information as is found in books' periodicals and articles is readily available thanks to the librarians who have developed sophisticated methods and infrastructures for the dissemination of this information. Today it is easy and basic routine to identify all publications that have been produced in a given country. Bibliographies, indexes and abstracts have ensured that the availability of information is publicized to the fullest extent. It is relatively easy even to trace publications that were produced many years previously, to identify where they were published and to check if such publications are still in print.
That is not so with the unpublished information held in Records Centres. As has already been indicated, not only are Ministries and departments unaware of what information other ministries and departments have produced but even within the same ministries and departments there is often little knowledge of who has what information and of what is held in the offices. registries, records storerooms and Records Centres.
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