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Ethical issues

1.12 Ethics
1.13 Ethics and new technology


1.12 Ethics

Ray Edmondson et al

1 general

1.1 Collecting and other professions share many commonalities in codes of ethics and these apply equally to AV archivists. These include such areas as fairness, equity, duty of care, discrimination, honesty and integrity, efficiency, criminal behaviour and so on. A fully developed code of ethics would detail these issues, but in this draft such things are taken for granted. The focus is on issues specific to this field.

1.2 The following paragraphs are indicative, not comprehensive. The compilation of a Code of Ethics for AV Archiving should draw on comparative sources from many countries, with particular reference to codes within the library science, archival science and museum fields.

1.3 Legalities are so important and sensitive in AV archiving that a code of ethics needs to deal with the legal obligations of the institution and individual in scrupulously honouring copyright obligations and depositor and donor agreements. It also needs to deal with the morality of dealing with donors and lenders who may have no title to the material they are offering.

2 institutional

2.1 The care of collection material is the shared responsibility of the AV archive and its superior authorities, and the individual AV archivist. Its staff are entitled to know the boundaries of their individual responsibility and accountability.

2.2 The AV archive will honour and support the professional integrity, competence and development of its staff. It may require that they meet appropriate professional standards. It will not ask them to act in ways clearly contrary to professional ethics and standards.

2.3 AV archives will operate in an open and accountable manner. Consistent with professional ethics and standards, and mindful of the credibility and integrity of the AV archiving field, they will create and observe written policies, guidelines and standards as frame of reference for their work. They will not be reliant on informal understandings or transactions, intuitive procedures, or personality-based arrangements. They will strive to document all relevant information in a retrievable form so that they are not dependent on individual memory or knowledge.

2.4 Collection material will be publicly presented, regardless of the setting, with integrity. An AV archive will strive to present material in such a way that, as far as is now possible in practice, the audience is able to perceive and appreciate it in its original form, context and import. Where material is presented in a reconstructed, restored, abbreviated or processed form which differs from this, relevant information or explanation will be available to audiences. An AV archive will not knowingly mislead or misinform its audience or clientele.

2.5 An AV archive will manage its collection and internal priorities holistically, and with a long term perspective. It will not compromise the survival of collection material in the interests if satisfying short term demand. It will strive to manage its priorities in the best overall interests of the survival and permanent accessibility of the AV heritage.

3 personal

3.1 Responsibility to the public

3.1.1 Where AV archivists encounter confidential information in the course of duty (such as recording or transcribing oral histories, or servicing client projects) they shall honour such confidences without exception. Further, they shall exercise caution and judgement in discussing such information with their colleagues.

3.1.2 AV archivists shall observe, without exception, the contractual and copyright obligations which attach to collection materials and shall familiarise themselves with these obligations to the extent that they are relevant to their duties.

3.1.3 Personal expertise notwithstanding, AV archivists shall not offer valuations, authentications, or similar opinions of material. Irrespective of their accuracy or otherwise, such opinions can involve a conflict of interest and be used subsequently by their recipient in potentially compromising ways, including dealings with their own archive.

3.1.4 Reconstructions, compilations, excerpting, abbreviation, format transfer or other ways of manipulating collection material for the purpose of presenting it to a contemporary audience shall (a) not threaten the preservation, unchanged, of the source material and (b) shall be documented in terms of the purpose, parameters and actual work done, so that an audience need be in no doubt as to the true nature of the new work so produced. It is suggested that a pro-forma statement or code to this effect be adopted as an appendix to a code of ethics. Such a statement might, for example, set out the parameters and purpose of the project (which guide all the technical and artistic decisions), a description of the work done and research undertaken, description of the source material and its condition, explanation of the judgements and choices made, a statement on how closely the result matches the stated parameters, the time frame and completion date of the project, and complete credits setting out the contributors to the project, and their roles.

3.2 Responsibility to employer

3.2.1 AV archivists involved in acquiring collection material for their archives shall ensure that the transaction is fully documented in accordance with approved policies and procedures. In negotiating the acquisition, they shall not in any way intentionally mislead the supplier as to the terms of acquisition, value or identity of the item(s) in order to gain advantage for their archive or the supplier.

3.2.2 Potential conflicts of interest - whether apparent or real - shall be declared to their superior authority immediately they emerge. Such conflicts can be general or specific to the AV archivist's personal interests and role within their archive. Examples might be: financial interest in an organisation supplying goods or services to their archive, or membership of a group whose aims or activities conflict with those of their archive.

3.2.3 Because of the apparent conflict involved, AV archivists shall not engage in the building of private collections in a manner which could be perceived to be inconsistent with the policies, priorities and interests of their archive. In case of doubt, they shall declare to their superior authority any private collecting activity relevant to their archive's coverage.

3.2.4 AV archivists will strive to understand. observe and respect the legal dimensions of their work. whether this relate to copyright, contractual or other obligations.

3.3 Responsibility to collection material

3.3.1 AV archivists, as collection managers. shall take all reasonable precautions against accidental damage, theft, misuse, loss, degradation, or misadventure, and shall have regard for the responsibilities, policies, procedures and limitations imposed on them by their respective skills and formal duties.

3.3.2 AV archivists shall not appropriate collection items for personal purposes except insofar as the collection and services of their archive are accessible to them as members of the public, and on the same terms.

3.3.3 AV archivists are guardians of the AV heritage. They respect the integrity of the works in their care and do not mutilate or censor them, nor in any other way attempt to falsify history. They resist the efforts of others to do so. They endeavour to complete what is incomplete, restore what has been lost, remove the accretions of time, wear and misinformation. They hold in tension their personal tastes and critical judgements against the need to responsibly protect and develop their collection in accordance with policy.

3.3.4 In the management, repair and restoration of preservation copies, material will be treated as if it were irreplaceable (for in many cases it is). So far as it is within the power of the AV archivist to ensure, no sound or picture information will knowingly be lost.

3.3.5 AV archivists will not sacrifice the long-term survival of collection material in the interests of short-term exploitation, acknowledging that this involves the application of judgement rather than dogma.

3.3.6 When copying collection items for preservation purposes. the AV archivist does not edit or distort the nature of the work being copied, nor expose an original or preservation copy to undue risk. Within the technical possibilities available, new preservation copies shall be an accurate replica of the source material. The process involved, and the technical and aesthetic choices which it entailed, will be faithfully and fully documented so the trail back to the original will always be clear. The terminology, concepts and data recording methods used shall be precise and allow the unambiguous transmission of information for the future.

3.4 Professional conduct and values

3.4.1 The free sharing of knowledge and experience to aid the development and enlightenment of others, and the enhancement of the profession of AV archiving, is a fundamental attribute. AV archivists shall act in a spirit of collaboration, not competition, with kindred institutions.

3.4.2 AV archivists shall not knowingly be party to the dissemination of false or misleading information relating to their collections or areas of expertise.

3.4.3 Trustful relationships with sources and clients on a personal level are one of the greatest rewards and obligations of the AV archivist. Knowing that they are open to abuse, and that some will prefer to trust the individual rather than the institution, such relationships will be characterised by absolute honesty, institutional loyalty and the absence of personal gain.

3.4.4 As the guardian of the AV heritage, AV archivists will strive to develop a personal perspective on the social and historical importance of the material under their care. Honestly held, such views may not always coincide with the view or the agenda of the AV archivist's employer. It is in situations of crisis or confrontation that a reference point is needed. For example: political censorship ("destroy this: it never happened"), economic pressure ("we can't afford to keep all this stuff.. get rid of it"), arbitrary or uninformed directives. No code can provide a simple step-by-step response to such potential situations but it can attempt to identify the professional values involved as a guide to the AV archivist.

In such cases, they must use judgement in advocating their point of view and seeking a solution which has the support of all involved. It is the mark of professionals that they not only possess requisite knowledge: they have intellectual and moral autonomy and an obligation to exercise it in the best interests of both the AV heritage and their employer.

3.4.5 AV archivists recognise and observe their cultural and moral responsibility towards indigenous peoples, ensuring that collection material is handled and access is given in ways that are compatible with the norms of their cultures.

3.4.6 Knowing that the provenance of AV materials is often difficult or impossible to establish. the AV archivist will not knowingly be party to transactions likely to compromise personal integrity or the employer's reputation.

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