Archivists and records managers as carriers of change- excerpts from ICA 2015 Annual Conference

Dzhevid Mahmud

Archiving and records management (ARM) professionals are often considered to preserve the past rather than shape the future. The 3rd International Council on Archives (ICA) named, Archives: Evidence, Security and Civil Rights , revealed that ARM professionals are equally responsible for designing current policies and future change as they are for preserving the memories.

Earlier this year I was awarded a grant by ICA to join the 3rd Annual Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland as a New Professional (NP) with less than five years of experience. I was excited to visit the picturesque, remote island with moonlike lands and hot springs, and I was also looking forward to learning about the newest developments in the world of ARM. However, what made my participation at the conference even more valuable was the vote of confidence that the Open Society Archives instilled in me as representative of the organization.


The trip to Iceland from any point in the world is not an easy one. It takes about 6 hours to get from Budapest to Keflavik. (Once you land there make sure to take a deep breath of fresh, clean air.) The trip from the airport to the capital, Reykjavik takes about 50 minutes.  During this drive you can observe the moonlike scenery created by the volcanic activities from million years ago, or the peculiar shade of green that can be only seen from this vantage point, or you could just browse with the free internet found almost everywhere in the populated areas of the island.

Upon reaching the capital there is a big, white modern cathedral (Hallgrimskirkja) standing high above the low-raised buildings in the town. The whole country has a bit more than 320,000 inhabitants, 2/3 of which live in capital area, yet Iceland succeeds economically from the rich historical past of the Vikings, foreign rule, and independence, all of which the national museum would show you. Once there, make sure to visit one of the many hot springs, and drink a lot of tap water claimed to be the cleanest on the planet.


The 3rd ICA conference took place on 28 and 29 September, 2015. Both ICA and the National Archives of Iceland did a tremendous job in organizing the event. The program was rich and diverse, and the venue was big and easy to navigate for the 500 participants. The main workshops of the conference were:

  • Information in Modern Society: Open Data and Partnership
  • ICA/PCOM (Professional Committee) sessions
  • Information and Civil Rights
  • Information Security and Preservation
  • and other special topics such as Africa Strategy, New Professionals presentations and ‘tell a story through Poster’ session.

As a NP grantee my main tasks were to prepare for and present the New Professional Program to the ICA members. There were six of us from all over the world and we deliberated on the aims of the NP and its position at the local, national, regional, and international level. We compared our program to similar existing global programs, shared our vision for the future development of the program and invited any interested parties to join us on Facebook ( ICA New Professionals / Nouveaux professionals ).

A day prior to the official opening of the conference I had the great opportunity to be part of the ICA’s   Expert Group on Records Management (RMEG). At the meeting we discussed the statement of knowledge and capabilities Information Managers are to possess when performing their duties. As new professional for me that was a great opportunity as I got to know that statement of knowledge is guiding document helping to define the responsibilities of a profession discipline. It encompasses theory, research, practice and education. The purpose of the Statement is to codify the kinds of knowledge practitioners need to be aware of- depending on their business context and hierarchy; to raise awareness about the profession; to assist professionals and non-professionals in their work; to inform employers. It provides the baseline of knowledge and skills. One of the conclusions reached through the discussion was that it might be challenging, yet possible to find the minimum skills required for serving best the information management profession and the humanity.

During the conference I found the Information and Civil Rights stream to be the most interesting.  We had intriguing presenters from all over the world sharing their experiences, including 1) how to keep up with the constant technological development and employing it best to our needs, 2) how important it is to follow the policies and respect safeguards in place, and 3) to build secure and reliable data storage systems while providing wide public access, 4) the importance of keeping certain email and social media posts, and 5) the importance of keeping good business records as evidence for human rights violations. I was also grateful to hear some approaches to developing human rights documentation and learn more to contribute towards the project as a post-custodial approach to human rights video-archiving.

Jason Baron gave an outstanding presentation on  Lessons from Hillary: The challenge of ensuring a complete public record of the activities of government (and access to it) in the digital era . It referred to Hillary Clinton setting up a private email server for her private and public emails while she was Secretary of State. Several lessons learned from the case were:

  1. Employees will use whatever device available to create public record.
  2. Shadow apps can be used by public employees.
  3. Hitting the delete button doesn't mean you delete the data.
  4. Users are overburdened by record-keeping schemes of the past.
  5. When it comes to public records we are living in an exponential world.

There have been numerous solutions throughout the years for proper electronic correspondence-management, however all of those have included human intervention, which has repeatedly lead into error. That is why the U.S. government has foreseen that it will have to rely on the fully automated digital email capturing and tagging systems in the very near future.

The high point of the event was the closing speech by John Hocking on  Archivists: from the backroom to the boardroom: In memory of Tony Newton. Mr. Hocking is the United Nations Assistant Secretary General, Registrar of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (UNMICT). His speech was remarkable and inspiring, worth sharing and discussing as it voiced the importance of people as carriers of change and inspiration in any profession. Speech dedicated in memory of Tony Newton, who raised the importance of ARM from the backroom to the discussion table at the board room. These closing remarks underlined the immense importance of the profession and being professional as well as the great need of organizational support in performing our duties as well as our "critical" support for the organization itself. And last, the value of our work preserving the past, serving the presence, and shaping the future of humanity. Therefore all of us have an important role in properly voicing the needs of our "mission critical" as we are the carriers of change.

In conclusion I would like to share that the 3rd ICA annual conference was exciting, inspiring, educational, professional and intriguing. Citing Mr. Hocking's conclusion to the participants of the conference: "Go out in the world and make a difference...Sometimes, it only takes one person, one archivist, to move up to the boardroom."