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Reconciling Modern Archival Practices and Ethics with Large-Scale Digitization

Page history last edited by Laura Clark Brown 13 years, 7 months ago

Moderator:   Merrilee Proffitt

Panelists:      Barbara Aikens, Max J. Evans, Tom Hyry, Bill Landis, and Dan Santamaria



  • In which parts of the workflow—e.g., initial donor interactions, intake and pick-up, accessioning, processing, or reference transactions—do you address privacy, confidentiality, and sensitive information? How do you handle these concerns?  What are the roles of the collectors, processors, and reference staff in determining the intake, disposition, and use of sensitive materials? What should be the roles of the collectors, processors, and reference staff? Do these roles change in the digital environment?
  • Who should define what is or is not sensitive? Is a "I know it when I see it," case-by-case, strategy a viable option in our modern repositories? Who should make the determination as to whether or not to digitize a collection that likely contains sensitive information and then to make that collection available online?
  • Many collections were loaned to the Southern Historical Collection between the 1930s and 1970s and subsequently abandoned by the depositors, who are now presumed dead. No reasonable means exist for tracking the heirs of these obscure persons. Do we as a profession believe that it is ethical to digitize and make available online these abandoned collections?  Should the passage of time since abandonment be a factor in our decisions to digitize and if so, how much time should lapse?
  • The sheer volume of materials in our repositories precludes intensive processing for most collections, and even the most thorough processing is unlikely to uncover all materials with third party privacy, confidentiality, or sensitivity concerns.  Is it the archivist's professional responsibility to prevent discovery of sensitive materials or merely to advise our users against the disclosure of that information? Given the near silence on third party privacy in the archivist's code of ethics, can we as a profession comfortably shift the ethical burdens inherent in discovering and using private, confidential, or sensitive information to the researchers?
  • If we consider our professional ethics sound for the reading room where traffic is light and we presume to have control, should we reconsider or reflect further on our ethics for the amplified environment of the Web?  Should the profession begin to address digitization and the online environment in its code of ethics?
  • What effect, if any, will large-scale digitization have on future donations? Will potential donors feel reticent about donating material that will be made available online? Will the broad reach of large-scale digitization and online presentation spur donations and increase expectations? How might curators prepare for both possibilities, and how should digitization be addressed in gift agreements?

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