NAGARA's Core Values and Mission
NAGARA is committed to:
ensuring authenticity, integrity, and trustworthiness in the creation, distribution, use and storage of records regardless of format;
encouraging appropriate preservation, protection, and retention and disposition of both archival and non-permanent records;
promoting best practices and principles for accountability and transparency in public recordkeeping;
advocating for, among other issues, sustainability and accessibility in both archival and non-permanent public records programs; and
fostering education for professionals and maturity for programs in these practices and principles.
To support its purpose and mission, the National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrators (henceforth NAGARA) approves this Code of Ethics (henceforth “Code”) as a set of expectations for professional conduct and a guide for its members on how to act ethically in the pursuit of ideals and principles held dear to the organization and the professions it serves. All recordkeeping professionals, and especially government records professionals, are faced with ethical challenges that can require careful consideration and careful decision-making. Those entrusted as custodians of public records must be held to a high standard, as the public trust is derived from trust in the essential evidence of government action. NAGARA, as the professional association for government recordkeepers, is at all times committed to ethical practices in recordkeeping.
Furthermore, in any democratically-elected government, public officials are accountable to the citizenry they serve, and it is essential that public officials adhere to ethical standards in the creation, receipt, distribution, use, storage, and disposition of public records. Recordkeepers are, too, accountable to the public and must safeguard public records from unlawful and unethical alteration, destruction, or loss.
Code of Ethics - Background
Public records are the foundation of public trust. Records, regardless of format, are the mechanism by which the actions and decisions of public officials and organizations are recorded. The public is only able to observe and audit those actions, and thereby hold accountable said officials and organization, through access to and inspection of public records. Trusting that public records are authentic, reliable, complete, unaltered, and freely accessible to the fullest extent allowable by law is the solemn responsibility of records administrators, archivists, and records professionals nationwide. Without trust, records cannot be relied upon to be faithful carriers of information, and the veracity of information within can be questions. Undoubtedly, in government trust in recordkeeping processes is utmost as public records in most jurisdictions have a presumption of validity; inherent in that presumption is the implied responsibility that records professionals ensure that said records can fulfill that role in legal or administrative capacities, not to mention historical and other processes.
Authenticity of Records
Trust in records is based on being able to trust that records are authentic and unaltered. While it is beyond the scope of the responsibility of archivists and records administrators to guarantee the creation of good records, their responsibility is, whenever possible, to maintain provenance (the documented, unbroken chain-of-custody from records creator to final disposition)
Trust in records can only be ensured if the processes for management and decision-making are concisely and plainly articulated; a hidden or obscure process is difficult or impossible to audit. A records professional should be dedicated to ensuring that all practices are as transparent as possible.
Conflicts of Interest
In order to preserve trust in public records, trust in the officials who are charged with handling, preserving, and protecting those records must also be preserved. The motives of records custodians and others involved in the records lifecycle cannot be called into question without damaging the integrity of the records themselves. Records professionals should faithfully execute the mission of their organization to the best of their ability, and this execution should never be influenced by outside political, financial, or personal motives.
Government agencies are always subject to political influences, but records professionals should be isolated from the vagaries of the political process to the greatest extent possible. A professional, similarly, should never take action based on political motivations but rather the clearly articulated policies and procedures in place at their institution, best practices and standards developed by the professional community, or thoroughly researched and well-documented scientific process.
The public must be able to trust that the custodians of public records act according to best practices, standards, and laws in order to trust the records they control. Since records professionals often operate “between the lines” and can be difficult to audit, their motives and actions must be beyond reproach.
Bias is present in the actions and decisions of government officials, including records professionals. NAGARA members have a responsibility to eliminate all manners of bias, wherever possible, in collecting, access, preservation, and other aspects of records management.
Institutions are biased due to a myriad of factors: authority, mandate, budget, staff, leadership, and more. Government institutions are often subject to great inertia, or conversely, a desire to change rapidly for political expediency. Ultimately, archivists and records managers should identify what institutional biases exist and work to counteract them whenever possible.
Records capture the actions of government agencies and officials in their capacity representing said organizations. All records flow from the authority invested in these organizations and their officers; thus it is incumbent upon the officer to eliminate personal bias from their conduct as a professional and public official. The public must be able to trust the institution; the authoritativeness of an institution’s records would be severely undermined if its officers had ulterior motives.
Recordkeeping at all levels is not a well-funded area of government concern. A significant portion of archival and records management funding comes from granting bodies, some of which are private non-profits, some are governmental organizations, and others are for-profit institutions. Records professionals are advised to not allow granting bodies (or other outside entities) undue influence due to resourcing factors such as availability of grant funds, incentives, or sponsorships. Records professionals should weigh costs as but one factor in the determination of the most effective way to manage records.
Records professionals should strive to eliminate barriers to access that originate from differences socio-economic standing, race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, culture, physical location, digital access mechanisms, and more. Thoughtful consideration of demographics and audiences is essential to understanding information-seeking needs, as well as being able to guarantee equal access to public information. Significant barriers to accessing information present for one segment of the population
A mechanism that can be used to reduce or eliminate bias is to foster a diversity of experience, opinion, expertise, background, and thought among staff, partners, collaborators, and others involved in the records lifecycle. Diversity in records and archives is essential to ensure that all relevant actions and decisions are captured commensurate with their impact on all corners of society; policies and actions of government can seem minor in consequence to certain demographics but are quite impactful to others. As archivists and records managers develop recordkeeping policies and preservation strategies that seek to capture all essential actions of government, they must be thoughtful about the methods used to determine what is “essential”.
Code of Ethics - Pillars
NAGARA identifies the following principles as the pillars of ethical behavior for archivists, records managers, and other information professionals:
Members of NAGARA are elected or appointed employees of state, local, or national government, and are therefore responsible to the people. It is the duty of public servants to answer and be accountable to the people, and records administrators and archivists have a vital role in safeguarding the people’s ability to hold government agents accountable, and thus must be beyond reproach.
Members of NAGARA are expected to be professional in all matters, as either representatives or agents of their public institution, NAGARA, or the public. Members are expected to be courteous and polite, should prioritize the safety, well-being, and integrity of both the records under their care and their patrons, colleagues, records creators, and members of the public.
Members of NAGARA are expected to continually improve their knowledge and expertise in all matters related to records management, preservation, and access. Public records are essential to the functioning of the American republic and its custodians should strive to achieve and perform at the highest level possible.
Members of NAGARA are expected to eliminate bias and act neutrally as it pertains to the management of records. Public records and the administration thereof should never be subject to personal bias, political affiliation, or influence from any source. Records professionals should follow, whenever possible, industry standards and best practices for recordkeeping, information governance, access, protection, preservation, ethics, and more.