Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Global Archives Management Delegation Visit with Shanghai Municipal Archives (Bund Branch)

October 17, 2008
Shanghai, China

Representing the Shanghai Municipal Archives:
Mr. Cang Dafang, Deputy Director General, Shanghai Municipal Archives
Mr. Chen Chaoxin, Director of Administration Office
Mrs. Wang Chunmei, Deputy Director of Planning Department
Mr. Zhu Jianzhong, Deputy Director of Methodical Leading Department
Mr. Zhen Zequing, Director of Acquisitions Department
Mr. Zhang Xin, Director of Arrangement and Cataloguing Department
Mrs. Zhang Mingli, Section Chief of Access Department
Mr. Zhang Jianming, Deputy Director of Security and Preservation Department
Mr. Wu Guanghua, Director of Information Technology Department
Mrs. Cao Shengmei, Arrangement and Cataloguing Department
Mrs. Cheng Wangyuan, Administration Office

The Shanghai Municipal Archives was founded in December 1959. There are 14 departments and centers. Their have two missions: the first is to provide storage for archival records, and the second is to act as a center to promote patriotism.

They are a reference center promoting open access to government information. Their holdings total 2.18 million folders, or up to 58 kilometers/58,000 square meters. For better service to the public, they have the use of the entire building, courtesy of the city of Shanghai, although the actual collections are stored elsewhere. Their major functions include exhibitions and academic programs. The municipal government has given them a great deal of support, which has led to much notice from the public. Their mission has always included better promotion so that they can be better used by the public. In the year 2004, they had 240,000 researchers.

The delegates were shown a brief DVD about the archives, showing users, the old building, holdings recording the foreign settlements and local government records from dynastic and KMT periods, as well as the Japanese occupation in the 1930s, and the PRC period. These include records of industrial, commercial and social organizations and audiovisual materials, such as old wire recordings. The DVD described security, conservation, digitization, storage, publications, and the computerized catalog. All delegates will receive copies of the DVD.

They are expanding the functions of the archives, including some “cultural products” which were presented to Elizabeth Adkins. These included a beautiful scroll picture of the Bund area of Shanghai, a DVD about art deco in Shanghai, and some note cards. Elizabeth Adkins also presented the delegation's gifts to Mr. Cang, (who had to leave for another meeting), including an SAA membership and a certificate of appreciation.

Elizabeth Adkins began the question and answer session by noting that the archives the delegation has visited in China are very large and well-supported by the government. Many of the delegates work for small archives, not supported by the government. She asked for a show of hands of those who work in shops with five or fewer archivists. Five delegates raised their hands.

Pat Scott mentioned that she is not only a lone arranger, but she only has a half-time position and also does library bibliographic instruction. It can be overwhelming, but on the other hand, you can perform all the functions of an archives, not just one. College and university archivists often depend on student help. David McCartney noted that most university archives are part of a larger library system, and also part of a special collections department, including rare books, manuscripts and university records. His special collections department has eleven staff, but he is the only full time university archives staff, in addition to student employees.

In the following exchange, "GAMD" stands for Global Archives Management Delegation, and "SMA" stands for Shanghai Municipal Archives.

GAMD: Are college and university records included in municipal archives or are they separate?

SMA: All over Shanghai there are more than 50 archival repositories. SMA is a government archives, so they do not take college and university archival records – they have their own archives. There are 10 university archives in town. A typical university archives has a full-time staff of 10 to 20. They have comprehensive responsibilities including exhibitions, etc., in addition to records retention and storage and use of records. They might also be the local/university museum, and hold digital records. Some other archives have only 1-2 staff. There are both full-time and part-time staff.

GAMD: Does the SMA acquire their records by records schedules, mandating transfer method, timing, etc.?

SMA: They collect records from government agencies. According to Chinese law, once a file is created, after 10-20 years it must be transferred to the archives.

GAMD: Everything?

SMA: Yes. Before the records are transferred to the archives, they will be appraised and selected. They keep about 30% of the records. How does it work in the U.S. national archives? When is the transfer period – how long after creation?

GAMD: It depends on the type of record and the office of creation. Records are held temporarily at records centers, and some of these records are then destroyed. The records centers are distinct from the archives – more like “fancy warehouses.”

Jac Treanor commented that in the U.S., we see archives and records management as two separate functions, rather than one. He advocates that they are inseparable. He feels more comfortable with the Chinese point of view. U.S. appraisal is based on government legislation and local laws. For example, Federal government requirements affect personnel records, while tax laws and state laws govern business records, and local laws govern lower-level organization records such as religious organization records.

Eric Hartmann commented that Chinese archives seem to have more labor power available to work on archives. This may be one reason why we have to be more selective about what we take – there are fewer people to process/manage the records.

The delegates asked whether SMA plans to digitize everything and put it all on the web. Will Chinese people be able to access it all on the web? Will there be plans to translate it all into English?

SMA: In SMA we have been digitizing for 6-7 years. Maybe this digitizing means something different to us because our storage is far away from our reading rooms. So, most of our reference is provided here by via the Internet. Starting in 2004 we have general public reference here in this building. The requests have really grown, especially for Internet access to documents – so they have been digitizing more and more. Paper records, after appraisal and consideration for open access, are digitized and mounted on the Internet. We have digitized 50% of our records. Last year only 1% of requested records were digitized. This year 28% of requested records were already digitized. However, English translation is not top in our priorities.

GAMD: The DVD mentioned that business and organizational records were included in your archives. Can you tell us more about them?

SMA: Most are government records, but they are always ready to take records of important events or celebrations taking place in Shanghai. They send information to events staff to help them catalog and manage their records before right from the beginning of the process. They also send staff to do the transfer of the records.

They have read that the delegates are interested in preservation of digital records. They are interested in this, too. This relates to the technological conditions.

GAMD: NARA has a center for electronic records. Originally, they copied all information for use and stored the original. Now there is the ERA (Electronic Records Archives) project.

As mentioned earlier, digital preservation is an international crisis. If we don’t find a way of capturing electronic records, and making them usable in the future, we will have no records for the future. Unfortunately our IT experts think only of data and information, not records. The lawyers and auditors, because of lawsuits and electronic discovery laws governing evidence, have become our allies. They are helping us to forward our agenda of digital records preservation. We look to the ERA project with great hope, but we must go forward on our own, too. Many universities are setting up their own institutional archives to preserve digital records – but this, too, is complicated by laws governing, for example, student records and their confidentiality.

Records must be managed from creation to disposition – electronic records management is our most difficult task. We are just beginning! Several universities, including UCLA, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Michigan have done great work. Australia and Canada have produced very useful tools for digital preservation. There is now an “archives toolkit” that we use. Hardware and software obsolescence is a great problem. We need database structure standards and migration strategies to assist in this preservation. There are electronic records tools that allow us to capture records at the point of creation. We need further tools to help us catalog by category, office, function, also at the point of creation. It is not a time to sit and wait!

We need all stakeholders “at the table” and more investment in research on this topic. We need to develop specific tools and implement them. Part of the problem is that we are at the mercy of commercial vendors who create products which become obsolete – they have no interest in future usability of the hardware or software.

We have been long frustrated by working with IT staff – they don’t understand the concept of preserving records long term – for them it is only the current problem that matters. [*much* agreement by Chinese archivists] At Ford Motor Company, Elizabeth Adkins has been very involved with setting information security standards. Information security is a big problem for IT, too, so it has become an important way to communicate with them and jointly solve problems. It gives them a common viewpoint. This common work has helped create more of a partnership with IT.

Elizabeth Adkins asked if there were any more questions from the delegates. Stacy Gould, who works at Hong Kong University, asked about archival legislation, which does not exist at Hong Kong. In Shanghai, are university records governed by specific legislation?

SMA: There is a local archives code in Shanghai to which local university archives are subject, regarding retention of files. All universities in China must also abide by regulations issued by the Ministry of Education. Specific regulations in the Number 6 Act of the Archives Law must be followed. In China most universities are still public so they must follow laws regulating governmental entities.

The delegation then proceeded to an outstanding exhibit about the history of Shanghai on a lower floor.

No comments: