A New Vision at NARA

Archives & Manuscripts

A 1987 NARA advertisement promoting good record management practices of the time. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain image

This month, the US National Archives and Records Administration announced a new strategic plan for 2018-2022. Titled “Making Access Happen,” the new plan re-envisions the role of the archives as a customer-centered agency proceeding forward with goals that serve modern records needs.

Most notably, as reported in MeriTalk,

NARA would make the records available to the public online through the National Archives Catalog. NARA also will stop accepting analog records from agencies by Dec. 31, 2022, and will accept records only in electronic format and with the appropriate metadata. This will cause many agencies that haven t done so already to consider how they ll store and manage their records electronically as well.

This is interesting as it positions NARA’s record retention policies in relation to their own strategic goals rather than a passive dedication to collecting records in whatever format they might be available. NARA is being proactive in prioritizing their goals to reduce backlog and improve the pace of record retrieval above the desire to gather a more “complete” collection of documents that might would not be easily accessible for a certain period of time.

I think this is a good, forward-thinking move on NARA’s part, although many federal agencies will probably find it shocking or burdensome. The transition to electronic record-keeping is a complicated one, especially when it comes to government records, and I foresee that many agencies might avoid the necessity of putting a plan into place for as long as possible. In that kind of situation, enforcement of records retention schedules might become an issue. Who will be the bad guy when it comes to making sure these agencies are up-to-speed and accountable?