We are pleased that government agencies have been making some progress toward electronically preserving historical documents. However, the amount of preservation work still to be done in the territory is staggering, and large-scale efforts are needed to put in place a proper framework for the effort.
This year, the Library Services Department obtained a digitiser as a gift from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This machine — which is similar to one obtained recently by the Archives and Records Management Unit — is a positive step.
It will allow the library to complement the archives’ work by digitally preserving some of the documents it has received during its 71-year history as an official records depository. These include newspapers, funeral booklets, legislative minutes and others.
However, even the most high tech equipment will not ensure that all of the territory’s valuable records are properly preserved. The preservation process takes funding, training, staff and other resources, all of which frequently have been lacking for this important purpose.
Because of such neglect, the territory is sadly behind the times when it comes to preservation. Currently, countless important records are in grave danger — by some estimates more than a million documents are stored in boxes in the Central Administration Building and other areas — and an even greater number doubtlessly have been lost to time.
Meanwhile, many government agencies lack the resources and training to keep proper records on a day-to-day basis.
Legislators promised that such problems would be addressed by the Archives and Records Management Act, which they passed in 2010. However, the law never took effect, and the delay has not been publicly explained.
This is unfortunate. Besides laying out guidelines for preservation, the law would levy stiff fines for the destruction of public records, and it would require the head of each government agency to establish sound record-keeping practices.
All of these measures are needed, and we hope that the act will be brought into force soon.
Positive steps like the digitiser acquisitions will only go so far without a long-term commitment to preservation across the civil service.