Chain of custody : access and control of state archival records in public-private partnerships




Carlson, Sarah Elizabeth

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As I write this, is named in a lawsuit submitted by the non-profit organization Reclaim the Records, citing that it, a private corporation, received preferential priority and access before individual patrons of the public in Freedom of Information requests for genealogical records. Reclaim the Records, founded in 2017, is an activist group that advocates for increased transparency and access to archival and genealogical records from US state and federal agencies. The organization submits Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and, often following unsuccessful requests, lawsuits to obtain copies of records that they then publish online for free, open access without copyright, publication, or use restrictions. Dwindling budgets for state and territorial records agencies limit their ability to provide expansive digital access unprompted. FOI requests and lawsuits at once seem the prerogative of citizens to utilize as many tools as necessary to access public records and also an aggressive measure towards repositories that ostensibly hold similar values of access despite few avenues to support such service. Concern that public records may move into private hands demarcates an increasingly digital realm of record-keeping and public history. As companies and the public jockey for access to records in a race for access—one open and the other behind a paywall—the blatant corruption is alarming. Yet, public records agencies are also actively pursuing partnerships with the private sector to digitize materials for online access. This MA report centers on the Georgia Archives and to explore the implications of these public-private partnerships in a neoliberal economy that affects the digital stewardship, ownership, copyright, and access of cultural heritage collections. Such partnerships often form around genealogical records and thus engage in questions of citizenship, property, and race to reveal and reify technologies of state power. In the process, they marginalize and exploit people of color via national projects


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