background image
ommended in these manuals. Retrieval
of content may be sub-optimal but digit-
al assets can be discovered by the ingenious
searcher in much the same way that uncata-
logued or poorly catalogued documents can
be retrieved in the analogue. Such exposure
will continue and multiply and rightly so.
Curators of heritage assets will be powerless
to stop it even if there has been an apparent
breach of copyright. They should encourage
it, but it is doubtful if they could insist on all
the bells and whistles recommended by the
two digitisation manuals. Rather we should
view the exposure of assets on the Web in
much the same way as publishing in the ana-
logue domain: a continuum from the popu-
lar to the fully referenced `scholarly' work.
As we know, the content of the popular can
be just as rigorous as the scholarly but lacks
its critical apparatus. What we must not do
is deter the enthusiast from participating in
what for the genealogist and local historian
is truly a revolution. For all our ISAD(G)s,
ISAARs and EADs, we are not in the busi-
ness of creating deterministic universes if
we think we are we have not paid enough
attention to our critics.
owever, for archivists and librarians
(and to a lesser extent museum cura-
tors), there is a good deal more to it than
this. Although we might resist following the
lorry in the creation of digital surrogates
and all that entails, we cannot avoid it when
contemplating the future collection of tradi-
tional assets. Both guides shy away from stat-
ing explicitly that, like it or not, this is the
way the world is going to be. Nonetheless
they can both be read as guides as to how
to manage all digital assets from creation to
curation. This presents archivists with formi-
dable challenges, not just in how to address
the question but perhaps more fundamental-
ly in where their profession sits, if it sits at all,
in the information domain. When it comes
to digital preservation, neither manual says
`if in doubt, call an archivist'. Digital creation
and curation is not something peculiar to
archivists. The old simplistic argument that
archivists dealt in unique objects and librar-
ians dealt in multiple copies no longer holds
any water. Archivists have to address the
fundamental question: `What do archivists
bring to the digital table?' For my money it
is about fiduciary responsibility, which we
will come to share with librarians (like it
or not) and preserving a balanced historical
record as far as we are able (which emphati-
cally we will not share with librarians). I
believe that as a consequence we will have
to give up our cherished role of having the
final say in appraisal and that the supposed
continuum between records management,
with its implicit risk assessment, is no long-
er tenable. In the light of what has emerged
about government record-keeping in the
wake of 9/11 and the war in Iraq these are
vital questions which the profession must
address or it will be side-lined. If we hon-
estly believe that what we do is intrinsically
bound up with accountability, we should be
telling the world that if you entrust unique
objects to archivists we can guarantee their
authenticity and reliability as evidence.
n doing so in the digital domain, the costs
of the digital, explicit in the NINCH
guide and implicit in MINERVA's docu-
ment, take archivists into a totally new ball
game. Instead of playing `catch as catch
can', we have not only to buy racquets but
a great deal of expensive gear. Archivists,
with the exception of those who work in
well-endowed library manuscript depart-
ments, have rarely been able to afford the
luxury of cataloguing and indexing individ-
ual objects and yet that is what the digital
demands. Digital objects enjoy an independ-
ence that most analogue objects do not.
They do not easily have an association with
another object. More often than not in the
analogue world documents were associated
with several objects, and this was resolved
by binding them together, making copies or
in some cases by elaborate cross-referencing
which was nearly always subject to exter-
nal audit. This can only be resolved in the
digital world by the careful construction of
metadata. Creators will only be persuaded to
follow such guidelines if they perceive that
there is genuine added value from their per-
spective, or there are penalties in not doing
it, or both. Since penalties consequent on
either legislation or regulation are differential
in their impact, the principal inducement has
to be value-added. This may sound easy, but
in practice demands considerable business
process re-engineering (or, in other words,
in the way we do things) not just externally
but within the archive and other informa-
tion professions themselves. As I have already
hinted, this demands a clear articulation of
the core values of the archive profession.
nless this happens, I am convinced
that archivists will be forced by budg-
etary pressures to align themselves much
more closely with other information provid-
ers. Our death knell is sounded at the end
of both these manuals when they consider
long-term curation. This is an unknown, as
they both rightly point out. The only thing
that is known is that it will be expensive
and, as we all know, expense means collabo-
ration if not forced mergers with librarians.
Here, I believe, we have a great deal to offer
which distances us from mediation and takes
us back to our core value of the fiduciary
curation of historical memory, albeit drawn
far more widely thanks to developments in
the humanist and social sciences. The word
archives is redolent of western values; its ety-
mology speaks of holding precious, even
sacred, documents in an ark or strong box,
surrounded by processes built up over gen-
erations that guaranteed that the contents
could not have been tampered with and
were what they purported to be. I have no
doubt that all societies have a need to devel-
op systems that ensure the unambiguous
credentials of their memory. This for me is
the paramount duty of the archivist, placing
them in a quasi-judicial role, which those in
`free societies' who question their appraisal
criteria need to understand. We must defend
it, articulate it, and debate it so that we can
earn a seat at the virtual table and not simply
spend our time following lorries into floods
and repeatedly having to get our legs wet
and our cam shafts fixed at great expense.