Establishing a state-of-the-art national archive repository should be a priority as the territory works to build back stronger after last year’s hurricanes.
For too long, Virgin Islands records have been neglected, with an alarming number of them lost to mould, flooding or general neglect even before the 2017 storms.
This situation is most unfortunate. For hundreds of years, the history of the descendents of enslaved Africans went largely unwritten. Now is the time to reclaim as much of it as possible. Preserving public records is a crucial part of that effort.
Currently, however, many archives are stored in compromised locations in various public facilities, including the dilapidated Old Administration Building at the Sir Olva Georges Plaza.
Happily, many of these records apparently fared relatively well during the recent storms: For example, only about three to five percent of those stored at the Archives and Records Management Unit’s main office were lost, according to the chief records management officer.
But next time the territory might not be so lucky. And with hurricane season about five weeks away, now is the time to prepare. This means taking immediate steps to secure important documents even while planning ahead to establish a well-protected, climate-controlled central archive repository.
Implementing a comprehensive electronic-records system should also be a priority. Some government agencies have already taken this step — a fact that saved many important documents during the September storms — but others need to follow suit.
Meanwhile, all existing records should be digitised as soon as possible if they are not already.
Such efforts won’t be cheap, but we believe they are important enough to merit drawing some of the $400 million in loans being guaranteed by the United Kingdom. Grants should also be available from outside sources.
As such measures get under way, the government should keep the promise it made in the recent Speech from the Throne to update and enact the long-promised Archives and Records Management Act, which was passed in 2010 but never brought into force.
At a time when public records are in increasing danger, such steps can’t come too soon.