January 28, 2020
Less than a month ago, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) blurred images –specifically images of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, DC – in an exhibit display celebrating the history of women’s suffrage. While these were not archival records in the strictest sense, the alteration of an image in this way is a deliberate misrepresentation of fact akin to censorship, which runs contrary to the core values of NARA and archivists and records administrators throughout the United States and the world.
The role of the archivist is to preserve and present authentic, trustworthy information in the correct context, and this duty is extended to the other materials used in the production of exhibits. By changing the documentary evidence, regardless of its source, one inserts undue and unwelcome commentary into the historical record. It constitutes a breach of the public trust, for which the Archivist of the United States and the National Archives have already apologized.
NAGARA’s members are archives and records administrators at the federal, state, and local levels. We understand and take very seriously the public trust involved in the acquisition, preservation, accessibility and accurate presentation of historical government records. NAGARA salutes NARA and its staff for recognizing its mistake and apologizing, which begins the journey to regaining the public trust, something which takes years to build and, as demonstrated, moments to shatter. NAGARA stands with NARA and hopes that this moment will provide an opportunity for introspection, re-examination, and reaffirmation of the agency’s core mission and values.
Further, NAGARA commends the community of archivists, journalists, and the public at large who responded to this incident with swift conviction, reminding the National Archives of its responsibilities not only to the American people but also to the archival community. We should all continue to hold our public institutions and officers to the highest standards.
NAGARA and its members will join all supporters of the defense of democracy through the protection of the public record in waiting for the results of NARA’s review of its policies and procedures. Trustworthy public records are a cornerstone of our democracy, and the National Archives’ role in the preservation, protection, and accessibility of those records is essential. In order to have faith in government, we must trust its institutions, and NAGARA supports NARA’s journey to rehabilitating that trust.
You can read NARA’s apology at https://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2020 or in NAGARA’s New Room at https://www.nagara.org/Public/News_Room/Articles/National-Archives-Apologizes-for-Alteration-of-Womens-March-Image.aspx. The apology of the Archivist of the United States can be viewed at https://aotus.blogs.archives.gov/2020/01/22/accepting-responsibility-working-to-rebuild-your-trust/.
The National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) is a professional non-profit association located in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the improvement of federal, state, and local government records and information management and the professional development of government records administrators and archivists. Members include county, municipal, and special district governments, state agencies (state records centers, archives and libraries), the National Archives and Records Administration; federal agencies and employees; public universities, and a number of provincial and institutional programs.