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Report from SAA: Archival Solidarity and International Cooperation

The Archival Solidarity Session was really great and generated a lot of dialog. It was originally organized by Nancy Marrelli of Concordia University (Montréal), but she couldn't make it on account of a family emergency. Trudy Huskamp Peterson led the discussion in her place and did a wonderful job. Essentially, Archival Solidarity is a project involving the ICA's Section of Professional Associations that concerns "international archival development" through bilateral projects. There are several major issues at play. First, existing methods of international development are not working for archival projects, either because of bureaucracy in general or archives being of lower priority in comparison to needs such as sanitation, adequate health care, and the like. We identified that one of the most critical aspects is the lack of communication or methods to share information. There is no central "hub," formal or informal, that allows archivists to share information about assistance needed or offered. The International Fund for Archival Development (FIDA), coordinated by the ICA, was supposed to serve as such, but apparently operational issues prevent it from working effectively. A further concern is that even when other active development projects are underway, organizations such as the IMF ignore the effect of privatization on archives. Furthermore, all of us were concerned cultural imperialism and depatriation of archival materials (by digitization, etc.). Of course, the biggest concern of all was the acquisition of funds.

We discussed a few areas that we could work to start putting things in motion. Most notably, we should create a listserve, or possibly a website, that would serve as a central point for these discussions. There is the possibility of working with Arxivers sense Fronteres, an archival NGO similar to Doctors Without Borders organized by l'Arxiu Nacional de Catalunya (National Archives of Catalonia). We also discussed how the International Committee of the Blue Shield (ICBS) fits in. It seems not to (yet) since it exists primarily as a pressure group and that the United States group is not active. It's also worth noting that the United States has not signed the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, invoked by the ICBS statement concerning threatened cultural property in the Lebanon-Israel conflict.

So, the questions stand: how do we can we coordinate our strategies to assist archives and archivists in need? I paraphrase Dr. Peterson: Showing a 2,000-year old monument reduced to rubble elicits an emotional response, but to most people, destroyed records would not generate the same extent of a response. How do we prove the value, evidential or otherwise, of records to large NGOs and philanthropists? How do we prevent ourselves from introducing cultural imperialism, and how do we ensure that we will get an effective result?