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22.03.2007 General News

Archives Administration & National Development

By Asihene Samuel Nyampong

IN the Ghanaian economy, like other economies, records are important sources of administrative, evidential and historical information.

They are vital to the economy in its current and future operations, assisting with accountability and providing an understanding of the agencies’ history and procedure. Records management forms part of the corporate memory of the economy.

Archives are the non-current records of individuals, groups, institutions and governments that contain information of enduring value.

Formats represented in the Ghana archival repository (PRAAD) include photographs, films, video and sound recordings, computer tapes, video and optical disk, as well as the more traditional unpublished letters, diaries and other manuscripts.

Archival records management procedure help to ensure that the country conducts itself in an orderly, efficient, equitable and accountable manner, protect the interest of the country and its employees, clients and stakeholders, support and document policy formation and managerial decision making, provide continuity in event of disaster and maintain a corporate memory of the agency, as well as being used as reference material to inform the current or past decision making process.

The records management guidelines set out in this code of practice reflect best practice but may need to be adapted to particular circumstances given the diversity of organizations in the country, their functions/activities.

Archival records are the products of every day activity. Researchers use them both for their administrative value and for purposes other than those for which they were created. Medical researchers utilize records to study patterns of diseases, authors use archives to acquire information about things they are writing, historians and genealogists rely on archival sources to analyse past events to reconstruct family histories while business organizations use records to improve their public relations and promote new products.

In short, archives benefit nearly everyone; even those who have never directly used them.

Archivisi duties include acquiring and appraising new collections, arranging and describing records, providing reference services and preserving materials. In arranging records, an archivist applies two important principles, provenance and original order.

Archivists work for a variety of organizations including government agencies, local authorities, museums, hospitals, historical societies, business, charities, corporations, college and universities and any institutions whose records may potentially be valuable to researchers, exhibitors, genealogists, etc.

The primary task of the archivist is to establish and maintain controls, both physical and intellectual, over records of enduring value. They select records, a process that requires an understanding of the historical context in which the records were created, the uses for which they were intended and their relationships to other sources.

The archivist then arranges and describes the records in accordance with accepted standards and practices, ensures the long term preservation of collections, assist researchers, plans and directs exhibitions, publications and other outreach programmes to broaden the use of collections and to enlist support for archival programmes.

The work of the archivist is related to, but distinct from that of other professionals. The archivist, for example collects, preserves and makes accessible materials for research but significant difference exists in the way these materials are arranged, described and used.

The records manager and the archivist are for instance, closely allied, however, the record manager controls vast quantities of institutional records, most of which will eventually be destroyed, while the archivist is concerned or interested with records to be retained for an extended period.

The advent of encoded archival description, along with increasing demand for materials to be made available online, has required archivists in the developed countries to become more tech-savvy in this fast decade. Many archivists are now acquiring basic Xml skills in order to make their finding aids available to researchers online.

Archival repositories are as diverse as the institutions, organizations and the people they serve. They range from large, well funded operations providing a variety of archival services to patrons or users of the archives centre.

There is also substantial variation in the nature and scope of repositories and in their structure and organization placement within the parent institutions. In Ghana, the national archives is located at Accra but organisations and institutions such as government agencies, religious institutions, hospitals museums; labour union; and historical societies have their own archives where their records are retained.

QUALIFICATION AND EMPLOYMENT

Individuals can prepare for a career in archives administration through a variety of educational programmes. Most entry-level positions require an undergraduate and a graduate degree, together with archival course work and practicum.

Graduate and undergraduate archival programmes offer a variety of courses which include basic archival theory and methods, practice of appraisal, arrangement of record, description, preservation, reference services, outreach, legal concerns and ethics. In addition, archival programmes may offer courses that include records management, aspects of library and information science, management, administration history and research method.

In Ghana, it is also possible for an archivist to earn a doctorate in Library Studies, Archives Administration and Information Science. Archivists with PhD often work at teaching faculties or are deans and directors of archival programmes.

Also in Ghana because of the varied nature of jobs and the different organisations that archivists could work for, they need to have a very wide range of skills, such as an ability to apply some basic knowledge of conservation needed to help extend the useful life of cultural artifacts. He or she must confront the new challenges posed by the preservation of electronic records. And when cataloging, or when assisting users, archivists may need to have research skill.

Salaries, benefits and working conditions vary greatly, depending on the site and nature of the employing institution. Most government archivists have civil service status, and archivists in academia often have faculty status.

Archivists sometimes begin their careers on grant funded projects. In Ghana, however, many eventually achieve long – term job stability. Almost universally, archivists express a high degree of professional and personal satisfaction with their work.

The writer is a National Service man with the Land Valuation Headquarters. Accra.

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