Opening Access to Archives

A few months ago I attended one of a series of meetings nationally called “Opening Access to Australian Archives” – hosted by CCi (who also house the office of Creative Commons Australia). and the draft outcomes from these meetings have now been published.

The aim of these meetings is to create a statement of principles for Australia’s collecting instutitions (i.e. GLAMs) about how their collections should be made available, usable and re-usable. Everyone agrees in principle that more access is a good thing but the practicalities are tricky – especially if there’s no industry standard. Are there any standards internationally, if not, then perhaps this could be used as a model elsewhere?

A draft of the Open Access Principles for Australian Collecting Institutions is now available on a wiki at http://openingarchives.wikidot.com/ The principles are on a wiki so that others can amend/add to/comment on them – so please feel free to do so.

If you don’t want to go through all the documentation, here are the 6 “foundation principles” that have emerged from the meetings. I think you’ll agree that they’re consistent with a free-culture approach:
1) Resources should be made available for reuse unless there is a justifiable reason why they should not.
2) The reuse of resources should be as unconstrained as possible. For example, resources should be made available for commercial reuse as well as non-commercial reuse wherever possible.
3) The range of permitted uses of resources should be as wide as possible, for example, including the right to copy the resource, modify it and produce derivative works from it.
4) Reuse should be encouraged by permitting others to redistribute resources on a world-wide basis.
5) Resources should be made directly available and discoverable electronically whenever possible.
6) The conditions of use for each resource should be linked directly to the resource so that they are reusable at the point of discovery.

Of course, there are also very important limiting considerations that go alongside these principles – things like legal, cost or ethical concerns. Notably, several commonly used arguments have been demoted to “invalid reasons” for withholding access because they are contradictory to the foundation principles. These include: preventing ‘bad’ derivative uses; potential embarrassment to public figures; not ‘worthy’ of being released; unsubstantiated legal risk; maintaining the integrity of the collection.

All in all, pretty good news in my opinion! A final draft will appear in a month or two.  The minutes from the State meetings up on the Opening Australia’s Archives website (bottom of the page). Many thanks to Jessica Coates (who in her normal role runs CreativeCommons Australia and is a good friend of our Wikimedia Chapter) for being the facilitator of this great project!

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