R. Sumi Matsumoto

MSLIS Portfolio, Class of 2021

Cultural Records: Access, Context, and Ownership

This paper assesses the sensitivities of cultural records and the archivist’s duty to work toward social justice. There are many ethical issues that are exacerbated by cultural and political records, as there is often a disconnect between the communities the records represent and the institutions that house and disseminate the records. The paper focuses on evaluating three main, interrelated issues with cultural records: access and privacy, archival context, and collection ownership. It is up to archivists to discern what constitutes respectful use and treatment of these cultural records, and to dutifully represent the individuals and communities who have no voice in the collection's creation, use, and handling.

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News articles about the Baath Party Records, Confederate collections at the Alabama Department of Archives and History, and the Lanier v. Harvard case inspired this paper. Looking at a wide variety of cultural records: including racial, anthropological, political, and religious, this paper discusses the relevance of social justice in archival work. Cultural sensitivity is included in the SAA Code of Ethics, but the code offers very little guidance on how archivists should practice it. As archives strive to represent a broader community within their collections, they also must consider how these communities want to be represented. This paper argues it is the archivist's duty to bridge record collectors and record creators.

I wrote this paper collaboratively with two other people. I focused on the “Access & Privacy” section, but I also contributed to other sections since the three topics (access and privacy, archival context, and collection ownership) are interrelated.