Session 7: Access to Government Archives

Moderator: Ann-Sofie Klareld (Mid Sweden University)
State Archival Law in 2015: A Content Analysis of Statute and Comparative Study of Statutory Change / Eleanor Mattern (University of Pittsburgh) 

In a 1983 issue of the American Archivist, George W. Bain published a study of the “state of the art in archival law,” evaluating how and to what extent state public records laws address a set of 18 legal concepts. Observing statutory gaps and weaknesses, Bain concluded that the “majority of states can stand improvement in their law, some in a radical fashion” (p. 173) and he questioned when and even whether these improvements would be made.

More than 30 years later, Bain’s work is a useful but undeniably dated resource. This paper reports on the progress of research that updates Bain’s study to reflect the contemporary landscape of state archival law and how digital records in the workplace have shaped and altered statutes. This study implements Bain’s content analysis approach to evaluate the level of comprehensiveness of the state law to an expanded set of legal concepts, using a scoring system of “0” indicating “no mention” in the law to a “3” indicating “detailed and explicit coverage” (p. 164). This presentation focuses on the twelve states that Bain found to have the weakest public records statutes at the time of his writing, gauging changes across his original set of legal concepts and conceptual additions to state archival law since 1983.

If Submissiveness Ceased It Would be All Over with Lordship / James Lowry (University College London)

If submissiveness ceased it would be all over with lordship.” A command, given by the Duke to Renata in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last film, Salo; or the 120 Days of Sodom, takes place in a discrete moment that crystalises the political analogy of Pasolini’s masterpiece: it is a command to engage in coprophagia. The scene is made discrete by the silences that flank the command, the cinematography – long shots that put the spectator at a distance – and the mise-en-scene wherein the actors are arranged at the edge of the room – the viewer is set amidst them as a spectator and therefore an accomplice in Renata’s abuse. The complicity of the spectator takes on new meaning in view of the films socio-political setting. In transposing Sade’s scenario to the Repubblica Sociale Italiana, Pasolini articulated fascism’s inherent sadomasochism. Christopher Roberts has proposed that Pasolini meant to extend this analogy to the entire history of socio-political organisation. Pasolini invites us to consider how power is constituted and maintained. In Renata’s abuse, we see that power is given up tacitly and buttressed by our inertia. In extrapolation, let us consider Rousseau’s observation that the social contract is ‘perhaps never formally stated… everywhere tacitly admitted and recognised’. We are governed and governable through our tacit acceptance of a form of government, its institutions and processes. For Ranciere, ‘The social bond is maintained by this endless manufacture of acquiescence, which… in public assemblies and courts goes by the name of persuasion’. But as Stirner wrote, ‘If submissiveness ceased, it would be all over with lordship’. This paper will consider the political significance of access to information mechanisms such as Freedom of Information legislation and open data portals, through the lens of Stirner’s anarchistic ‘egoism’. Darch and Underwood have argued that opening government information (specifically, pushing for Freedom of Information as a right) is part of a neoliberal agenda for smaller government. This paper suggests that opening information has a more radical potential – the potential reverse the roles of sadist and masochist in the social ‘contract’.

Selection for Digitization by Private Companies: Partnerships or Encroachments on Appraisal Practice? / Adam Kriesberg (University of Maryland)

Archivists understand the concept of appraisal as a core tenet of archival practice. The appraisal process determines which materials are included in the archives and which are left out. This paper presents research on the increasingly privatized access systems for government records (managed by companies such as ProQuest and and considers how the relationship between the public and private sector is changing archival processes, specifically selection and appraisal. It argues that when records are digitized through public-private partnerships and other relationships between archives and private companies, this constitutes an appraisal process that takes place with significant input from private employees, not archivists. Digitization partnership projects are driven by the business needs of private companies rather than archival appraisal theory. Drawing on survey and interview data collected from government archivists in the United States and representatives from private sector organizations that operate internationally, this paper presents an overview of the relationship between archives and the private sector and considers the implications of privatization on archival theory and praxis.