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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Government archivists’ perceptions about their responsibilities to citizens and to government : "simply a matter of serving those around us"? McClure, Susan Margaret


Government archivists serve more than one interest. They are responsible to citizens, as the source of democratic power, and they are responsible to government, as their employer, and as the creator of the records through which government is held accountable to citizens. This thesis explores the role that archives and archivists can play in support of democratic accountability, and traces the historical development of archivists' perceptions of that role. Examples of conflict between serving citizens and serving the state are explored to demonstrate the potential for conflict in the work of government archivists. How government archivists perceive their responsibilities determines the role that archivists and thus archives play in democratic society. It also determines how archivists deal with the conflicts that can arise because of the dual nature of their responsibilities. Seven government archivists were interviewed about their perceptions of their responsibilities and role as public servants in a democratic state, and about their experiences with incidents when their responsibilities were in conflict. The interviews also explored the following factors that determine how government archivists fulfil their role: the expectations and restrictions put on public servants; the level of professional autonomy granted to government archivists as public servants; the predominance of economic determinism within government administrations; the attitude of the archival profession toward activism and advocacy; and the need for a watchdog over government record-keeping. The findings of the interviews led to the conclusion that archivists need to articulate a strong, common language of purpose that emphasizes the importance of preserving and providing access to archives as the evidence of the actions of government administration. This strength, when accompanied by a clear understanding of the political nature of archival work, will help government archivists deal with the constraints and conflicts of their position within government and within society.

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