The Importance of Preserving Pandemic Records

64-PR-107-02In a recent statement, Turning the threat of COVID-19 into an opportunity for greater support to documentary heritage, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized that the COVID-19 pandemic, which many countries have already declared to be modern history’s gravest health emergency, will one day become a part of our shared history. In its statement, UNESCO reminds us that “[m]emory institutions around the world, including national archives, libraries, museums, educational and research bodies, are already recording the decisions and actions being made which will help future generations understand the extent of the pandemic and its impact on society.” 

Documentary heritage is key to understanding how governments and their citizens have addressed pandemics in the past. With regard to COVID-19, several countries have issued orders for meticulous preservation of official records related to the pandemic. This not only underscores the gravity of the current situation, but also highlights the important role of memory institutions to preserve the information necessary for understanding, contextualizing and overcoming such crises in the future.

To help U.S. agencies manage records during the pandemic, the National Archives recently issued answers to frequently asked questions, noting that records related to the COVID-19 vary widely in scope, content and value across the federal government. 

Recently, the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) issued a joint statement that builds on UNESCO’s message and reinforces the importance and value of records management and archives. The statement, which was issued jointly with the International Council on Archives (ICA), the Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA), the Committee on Data International Science Council (CODATA), Digital Preservation Coalition (DPC), the Research Data Alliance (RDA), UNESCO and World Data Systems, calls on decision makers in the public and private sectors to recognize the importance of records management and archives at this time. Specifically, the statement includes three calls to action: decisions must be documented; records and data should be secured and preserved in all sectors; and security, preservation and access to digital content should be facilitated during the shutdown. This is the second statement issued by the ICIC related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ICIC, which connects information commissioners, ombudsmen and other bodies charged with overseeing the implementation of public access laws around the world, welcomed OGIS as an accredited member last fall. The ICIC’s values of Respect and Integrity, Collaboration, Inclusiveness, Transparency and Accountability closely align with OGIS’s values of Transparency, Collaboration, Effectiveness and Learning, as well as the values of the National Archives and Records Administration – Collaborate, Innovate and Learn.