Monday 7 September 2009

Thoughts on the keynote at the Society of Archivists' conference

The general consensus seems to be that the Society of Archivists conference, held last week in Bristol, was a great success. The range of speakers and topics was broad enough to maintain interest but remained focused on the issues of dealing with digital media. Randall Jimerson’s keynote on archives and justice provided an excellent framework for later discussion. He emphasised that archivists cannot be impartial, that archives are for accountability, open government, diversity and identity, as well as for justice. Given this, and the potential power that this implies that archives hold and, by association, archivists wield, recordkeepers should not be impartial. They should try to be objective while recognising their own biases and seek to promote social justice even if this means partiality. They should break from the traditional view of archivists as passive custodians and be prepared to stand up and use the power of archives.

However Jimerson emphasised that ultimately our decisions are our own and our personal codes of ethics and sense of justice should be the final basis on which we make our decisions. This raises interesting questions as to the nature of justice – one person’s idea of ‘right’ may be very different to another’s – and the role of a professional code of ethics in relation to a private sense of right and wrong.

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