5.6. Priority of archives
The challenge to decision makers is the need for the fuller exploitation of the information resources for the enhancement of the decision making process. That archives are not fully utilised is partially a result of the ignorance and unawareness of their existence. It is however not merely a failure by the archival institutions to make available the archives to the decision makers. Archival institutions are operating with very scant and inadequate material and financial resources.
Thirty nine institutions reported that they received favourable budgetary allocations in relation to other institutions and departments and yet a very significant number, twenty seven' indicated that they did not receive favourable budgetary allocations. Of those that received favourable allocations, twenty one did not have adequate staff. Only three institutions. the Archivo Nacional of Ecuador, the Archives Nationales of Luxembourg, and the Arquivo Historico de Macau, were able to report that they received top priority in the allocation of budgetary resources. The majority, forty five, received reasonable priority, while nineteen said that they received low priority.
Amongst those who felt that they had top budget priority only two' the Arquivo Historico de Macau and the Archivo Nacional of Ecuador were able to say also that they had adequate staffing. Of the institutions that received reasonable priority, twenty three did not have adequate staffing.
The barely sufficient and insufficient resources naturally affect the level of services that archival institutions can offer. Archival institutions are not self-financing or profit making organisations. They depend on being allocated requisite funding from their parent organisations. That funding of course is allocated in relation to what is seen as the relevance of the archival service and it is here that the paradox exists. The decision makers, who are in one way or another involved in the allocation of the resources declare that they value the archival service and say that it merits a high priority rating. The archivists themselves are equally convinced of the necessity of their work and of the priority status that it must be accorded. And yet in the final analysis, the archival institutions do not get this recognition.
That archival institutions do not get this recognition must surely be because the reality of the situation rather than the declared or professed importance is that archives are not at the moment able to compete well with other needs and priorities. The provision of welfare services' the increase in the number of police to combat crime, the building of clinics and schools. all these will take their place in the priority ratings ahead of the provision of archival services. But this is not surprising for as we have seen archives are not being used nor have they been demonstrated to be of critical value to the decision making process or to the day to day conduct of the business of the record creating agencies.
For archival institutions to merit a larger share of the national resources they will have to expand on their role but this does not mean that they should reduce or neglect their traditional and customary role of ensuring that records created by public entities and therefore belonging to the public are preserved and made available to the public so that the latter can scrutinize them and make the public entities publicly accountable for their actions. This is a noble and indeed mandatory role. Historians and researchers, genealogists and social scientists, all these have a legitimate claim to the records and archives.
The right of the public to inspect archives was asserted at the time of the French Revolution towards the end of the eighteenth century. Today most archival legislations enshrine this principle which has in certain countries been taken further in the form of the "Freedom of Information". Basically, there are two major methods by which access to archives is being granted. At one end there are those countries where access is granted to all records at the time of their creation with the proviso that access cannot be given to certain designated and specified records. At the other end there are those who operate a blanket closure period by which all records and archives are closed until they reach a certain age this generally being between twenty, twenty five and thirty years, the latter being more common. Such a system makes it easier to grant access although one can immediately see the drawback that there must be many records and archives which need not be closed for such an inordinately long time.
But does the question of access and the point at which it is granted have any relevance for the decision makers both in terms of the information that they themselves create and that which others create for them. Decision makers requiring information in the first instance go to their own registries to find out how their predecessors have dealt with certain problems and situations. They then go to libraries to see how other researchers have examined certain issues and provided solutions. The books, periodicals and articles that they are looking at in the library are however by and large the results and fruit of the labour of the general public, a public that has certain limitations in terms of the information that is available to it. There are times when researchers are allowed access to records held in Records Centres and departmental registries but this is the exception rather than the rule. The general researcher conducts his research in the field and backs it up with a consultation of the available published and unpublished sources. If his access to the records of Government is unduly delayed, his work is accordingly handicapped and devoid of directions that could have been taken had such information been accessible. To this extent therefore delayed opening of archives affects the output of the researching public and in turn affects the quality of external sources that a decision maker consults in order to make decisions.
The requirement is for the introduction of mechanisms to facilitate early access by the public to archives. Appropriate controls must of course exist to ensure that information of a sensitive or confidential nature or that can hamper the governmental process is not made available. The decision makers must realise that it is to their advantage to make such material available to the public at the earliest possible moment.
Archives however should be made to have a primary relevance to those who created them. If the latter profess that they need them then they should be given access. Giving this access does not merely mean compiling finding aids and putting them in the Search Room for consultation by those who should venture to visit the Search Room. Many decision makers are far too busy to make this visit unless they are aware or are assured that the information they are seeking is available. Archival institutions will need to realign their methods, practices and policies in order to keep in step with the requirements of those who in the first instance are the reason for the existence of the archives.
[Ukrainian] [English] [Russian]