UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Accountability in archival science Parkinson, Jane


Laws proclaiming freedom of information have been introduced in many countries in the past twenty years, creating familiarity with the idea that governments can achieve accountability by providing public access to current records. Some archivists hold the view that the preservation and accessibility of non-current records in archival repositories is similarly related to the principle of accountability; however this idea is not widely diffused and even less accepted, primarily because the concept of accountability is imprecise and has not been integrated into archival theory. This thesis analyses the concept of accountability and demonstrates its relevance in the context of archival science. It provides an explanation of the relationship between accountability and record keeping, which is found in an agent's obligation to create, preserve and provide access to records in order to account to the source of authority for the actions documented by the records. Also, it shows the connection between the concept of accountability and other administrative, legal, political and ethical values, a connection which is found in the complex and sometimes abstract social relationships that involve delegation of authority. Then, the thesis proceeds to examine the appearance of the concept of accountability in archival literature on issues of preservation, ownership, accessibility and management of records, and analyses it in relation to archival as well as administrative, political or legal concerns. Finally, the accountability owed by archivists is examined, through analysis of the claims made by repositories, users and the archival profession for authority over archives and theircare. The thesis proposes that recognition of the importance for archives of meeting accountability obligations depends on the general understanding of records as evidence of actions, and acknowledgement of an organizational and public interest in their preservation.

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