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Archives: bridging the cultural gap is also a matter of professional identity
For the archival profession, too, overcoming the cultural gap that separates it from the concrete perception of its strategic function in every sphere means defining a specific identity that comes through professional recognition. Professional identity is a delicate and complicated matter because it implies a widespread change of vision and the introduction of cultural models and shared values outside the community of reference. It means making them widely accepted at the cultural, political, institutional, labor and civil levels by outlining competencies, skills and knowledge that are truly recognized and considered indispensable in the rights, processes and services that govern our existence.
Professional identity needs to create paths and seize opportunities and to pursue them with patience and determination, conforming them little by little to the reality that surrounds us, proposing them in the right places and having them accepted, aware that there is never a point of arrival, but only one more step. It is important to know that there is still a strong gap to bridge between the statement of principles and the actual application of them in the concrete world.
Professional identity is a dynamic process that changes according to new social and working contexts and according to the legal system too. The first step is to share the vision within the community of reference being aware and confident that there is a strong disciplinary base on which to rely. Even so, it is important to have awareness and knowledge of the profession considering its evolution in all aspects.
This talk aims to retrace the twenty-year process of the archival professional recognition by analyzing the main Italian reference laws, considering the status of a non-regulated profession.
A process in which each action has had its own meaning and has set milestones. A process that have to be recognized at the normative level and capable of presiding over the traditional and innovative fields of the profession. Nevertheless, it needs continuous monitoring and refinement work to bring our professionalism towards new recognized functions, at the political and social level in relation to a new context, where professional boundaries are increasingly opening up to cooperation, to transversally and to a design that brings together different professional-technical skills. A professionalism appropriate to the needs of supply and demand, training, updating and in step with an economic context based on knowledge, digital technologies, the exchange of data and information, the growing demand for certain professionalization and the definition cognitive and relational skills.
Regulatory recognition of the profession. An historical premise
In Italy, the figure of the archivist has always represented a profession with a well-defined position within the institutions of preservation and protection with reference to the declination of the profession in the traditional sense. In the past, the profession has been carried out in mostly conclusive in themselves areas. This happened because supported by a well-established discipline, by the wealth of an exceptional historical value of documentary heritage, and by legislation that assigned the preservation of the public archives to the Central State Archives and the State Archives, and the supervision and protection of the archives of public bodies and private declared archives the Archival Superintendence Offices.
The path of recognizing archival science as a science and archivists not as mere collaborators of historians, but as true professionals “of archival science,” has been a long one and still perhaps little known and little recognized outside the community of reference or the community that makes extensive use of archives. Thus, it is not uncommon to find the case where one could repeat the observation of Giovanni Vittani who in 1910 said that many “have such a vague idea of them that they confuse them with libraries” (Lodolini 1996).
The debate that already in the last years of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century developed around the issue of archival science as an autonomous science, of its scientific qualification and of the scientific work of archivists demonstrates the evidence of this difficult. It was possible to specify and establish the dignity of archival science and Eugenio Casanova could affirm that archival science “is a science now established and susceptible to progress and, therefore, a field of research and study, like any other branch of knowledge” (Lodolini 2000).
In addition to the theoretical reflection on the subject, that has allowed the elaboration of “universally valid” principles, also factors such as the shift of the axis of the activity of archivists from medieval documents to the large complexes of the modern and contemporary age, made it possible to affirm the autonomy of archival science. The attention shifted to the teaching of archiving also on problems relating to current and non – current archives. Thus creating archivists who, alongside historical-literary-philosophical skills, possessed others of a juridical-administrative from an archival point of view, that is to say the production and organization of the archival funds of national political and administrative institutions. The even more advanced concept was born of conceiving the history of institutions as part of the archival science referred to by Cencetti as “special archival”.
The idea of a highly scientific and technical profession with cross – cutting skills that is able to deal based on mature science with the problems associated with the activities of institutions reflected in documentary production is thus being established. The places of training are the Universities and the Schools of Archives.
Theoretical reflection and the advancement of science had initially consequences especially in the professional activities of archivists placed in institutional settings as evidenced by both Royal Decree No. 1163 of October 2, 1911, specifying the training requirements and functions for state archivists and the subsequent Presidential Decree No. 1409 of September 30, 1963.
The institutional framework for the professional development and the role of the ANAI
The establishment in 1974 of the Ministry of Cultural and Environmental Heritage saw the transition of the dependence of the state archives administration from the Ministry of the Interior to the new ministry. A transition that brought about a new way of understanding and practicing the archival profession that opened up to the search for external figures for activities to support and supplement those carried out by the technical officers of the cultural heritage administration.
Alongside the State archivists, who entered their careers through a public competition and mostly trained at the Archives, Paleography and Diplomatic Schools established in the State Archives of the national capitals, professionals from outside the public administration thus placed themselves, just in sorts of gray area. They were not entirely devoted to an entrepreneurial activity in the strict sense, apart from the first forms of cooperatives, mostly linked to institutional clients only.
This was a very important step in the definition of a professional identity. In those years, it represented for professionals a form of internship, a gap in the system. Only for a few, it turned into a permanent job at the Ministry. However, at the same time, it was also a highly formative moment, thanks to the exchange of knowledge, a stimulus for continuing education: an increasingly autonomous professional force that over time sought its own place in the labor market in different sectors. Professionals insisted on the importance of the value of archives in every field, disseminating the traditional and innovative knowledge that had gradually become more and more necessary for the performance of professional activity.
In sum, this passage, too, alongside theoretical reflections on the new challenges of archival science, has been instrumental in raising awareness of a culture of the archives as a resource, a dynamic factor in all activities, as well as a memory that requires qualified professional figures for its management and preservation.
Demonstrating this, the Italian National Archival Association, ANAI, established in 1949, has also seen its gradual transformation over the years from an association of state archivists to an association of all archivists.
The push for digitization, however, was the real turning point as archival science, and consequently the profession understood in all its declinations, underwent a profound reflection first theoretically and then organizationally.
The digital dimension of the archives: a challenge for the profession
Digital brought with it the need for new knowledge to match the times of the technological change that was coming, with the task of disseminating theoretical knowledge and putting it into action with practical action.
The major digitization projects of the late 1990s and for some fifteen years saw archivists equipped with new skills. They saw the development of systems capable of making archival holdings usable to an ever-widening virtual audience, all supported by a growing effort to raise outward awareness of the importance of the value of archives, those of public administrations as well as those protected and all other entities, at all stages of its life cycle.
Technological innovation, therefore, posed a series of “analyses and reflections, that starting from traditional principles and concepts and their verification on the methodological level and archival practice,” could clarify “the coherence of the tools developed for the formation, management and preservation of records to confirm their validity in the technological dimension” (Guercio 2013). All related to the production of contemporary archives and the management of reliable record systems even in the digital environment.
On this impetus, in addition to the evolution of Italian legislation on current archives and the use of international standards and national guidelines, the recognition for the practice of the profession at the regulatory level has developed over more than two decades, although with delays and ambiguities. It was dictated also by the increasingly pressing confrontation with other professional profiles that were contributing to the construction of record management programs. Defining roles and specific competencies, identifying innovative training paths up to the challenge of the digital transition, thus became necessary in order to demarcate areas of intervention, open a constructive dialogue with disciplines operating in related fields, and produce quality information and legally relevant documentation.
The national regulatory environment (2000-2020): the formal recognition of the archivists and records managers
In fact, since the 2000s, there has been an insertion of the reference of a professional figure duly trained in the archival field for what concerns the computerized management of documents, document flows and archives.
Presidential Decree No. 445 of December 28, 2000, which introduces the legislative and regulatory provisions on administrative documentation. It brings together and coordinates, on the one hand, the rules on administrative documentation and, on the other hand, the rules on the drafting and management of computerized documents, specifies, at the regulatory level, in Article 61 (Service for the computerized management of documents of document flows and archives), paragraphs 2, that “the service shall be headed by a manager or an official, in any case possessing appropriate professional qualifications or technical archival professionalism acquired as a result of training processes defined in accordance with the procedures prescribed by the regulations in force”.
The Consolidated Text takes up what it already stated in Presidential Decree 428/1998. Art. 12 of the law enunciated this requirement.
Although the norm calls attention to the records of public administrations, in fact in those years, the archival administration revolutionarily imposed and disseminated the fundamental principle that a digital archive, like an analogical one, cannot be designed, managed and preserved without the presence of the figure of the archivist even in areas other than public administration. The fundamental effort has been to introduce new and advanced skills into the archival profession in order to be able to cope with the digital transition to which all realities have had to conform in both public and private spheres.
This gives rise to new declinations of archival science, computer archiving, and the archival profession that can help other figures involved in the process of archival transformation.
Legislative Decree 42/2004, (Cultural Heritage and Landscape Code) recognizes current and depository archives as cultural assets subject to protection and supervision by archival institutions and defines penalty provisions that were lacking in the previous system of protection. These provisions laid the groundwork for creating a stronger identity for the archival profession, which, as we shall see later, will also be better specified at the regulatory level.
The Digital Administration Code (CAD) is a single text that brings together and organizes the rules regarding the computerization of the Public Administration in its relations with citizens and businesses.
In particular, Art. 41 of the CAD deals with the Proceedings and the computer file and states in paragraph 2-bis that “the rules for the constitution and use of the file are in accordance with the principles of proper document management and the discipline of the formation, management and storage and transmission of records, including the rules concerning the computer register…”. It makes a tacit connection also with Art. 61, paragraphs 1 and 2 of Presidential Decree 445/2000 and without prejudice to and without prejudice to the provisions of Legislative Decree 42/2004 in Art. 10, letter b.
The dpcm Dec. 3, 2013, Articles 3 and 4, which incorporates the previous Technical Rules contained in the dpcm Oct. 30, 2000, better specifies the figure of the Service Manager. It assigns the Record Management Coordinator the task of defining and ensuring uniform criteria for the processing of computer documents and, in particular, classification and archiving, as well as internal communication between homogeneous organizational areas.
In addition, Art. 44 of the CAD, which deals with the Requirements for the Preservation of Computer Records highlights the function of the person in charge of the service for the maintenance of computer register, document flow management and archives who, as seen, must possess suitable professional requirements or technical archival professionalism.
The Guidelines on the formation, management and preservation of records (AgID 2020) reaffirm the principle of professional requirements or technical archival professionalism for the head of document management particularly in section 3. 4 “Duties of the head of document management” which refers to the service referred to in Article 61 of the TUDA, and section 4.4. “Preservation. Roles and Responsibilities,” which stipulates that the public administration’s preservation officer shall work in consultation with the document management officer. The 2020 Guidelines state that the preservation officer must also have archival skills.
The European principles and the Italian legislation and standards for the professional qualification: the milestones
On a level of professional qualification in a single labor market perspective in accordance with European directives, the year 2013 saw the enactment of two important pieces of legislation: Law No. 4 of January 14, 2013 (Provisions on unorganized professions) and Legislative Decree. Jan. 16, 2013, No. 13 (Definition of general standards and essential levels of performance for the identification and validation of non – formal and informal learning and minimum service standards of the national system of skills certification, pursuant to Article 4, paragraphs 58 and 68, of Law No. 92 of June 28, 2012).
Law 4/2013 aims to regulate professions not organized into orders and colleges and to ensure market transparency and the protection of those who use professional services of an intellectual nature. The framework identifies three systems for self-regulation of professionals: self-declaration, attestation by relevant associations, and certification issued by accredited bodies.
The law, although designed for market transparency and user protection and not binding for the practice of the profession, (anyone under his or her own responsibility can declare himself or herself a professional in compliance with the Consumer Code), brings in itself elements of great innovation. It brings order to the complex system of intellectual professions and introduces a modern dual system in which the free professions and their associations coexist with the other intellectual professions regulated by law in a register, order or college.
The rule refers to the context of the European model on profession qualification born out of the development of economic activities and the mobility of professionals within the single market, which has posed the urgent problem of mutual recognition of professions in terms of knowledge and skills and puts quality of services and market regulation at the center.
Legislative Decree 13/2013 “defines – pursuant to Article 4, paragraphs 58 and 68 of Law No. 92/2012 reforming the labor market – the general standards and essential levels of services for the identification and validation of informal and non – formal learning. It references to the national system of certification of competencies, in order to promote the growth and enhancement of the cultural and professional heritage acquired by the person in his or her life, study and work history, ensuring its recognition, transparency and expendability.
Thus was born the “Atlas of Jobs and Qualifications” which is a detailed map of jobs and qualifications.
Therefore, it seems evident how it is important to preside over such a sensitive field as the National Qualification Framework in order to reiterate the archivist’s educational and professional requirements not only in traditional fields, but also in more advanced ones that are susceptible to further declination.
On the level of professional identity, the year 2014 marks an important milestone with Law No. 110 of July 22, 2014 (Amendment to the Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape, referred to in Legislative Decree No. 42 of 2004, on the subject of cultural heritage professionals, and the establishment of national lists of said professionals) and UNI Standard 11536 (Qualification of professions for the processing of data and documents. Professional figure of the archivist. Knowledge, skill and competence requirements), published in July 2014 and currently under revision.
Article 1 of Law 110/2014 introduces Article 9-bis of the code set forth in Legislative Decree No. 42 of January 22, 2004, regarding professionals competent to carry out interventions on cultural property, and in Article 2, paragraph 1, establishes the relevant national lists. The Ministry of Culture website publishes these lists and non-inclusion of the same does not preclude the possibility of practicing the profession.
This is an important measure that establishes the principle that “operational interventions for the protection, preservation, conservation, enhancement and enjoyment of cultural property are entrusted to the responsibility and implementation” of experts in the field.
UNI Standard 11536:2014 is “the Italian standard published by UNI (Italian National Unification Body) and aimed at identifying the relevant characteristics of the archival professional profile. For the first time, a technical standard formally defines the skills, abilities and knowledge required to be an archivist. As such, the document can be used for a variety of purposes, from updating and redesigning training and career paths, to raising awareness about the role of archivists in information and document processes”. The point of departure is the European EQF model “seen as an opportunity to reconsider archival activities in a different light while adhering to a broad cultural, educational and social project, projecting archivists within a European action space” (Michetti 2015).
The implementing regulation of Law 110/2014 was launched in 2019 with Ministerial Decree May 20, 2019 REP. 244 (Procedure for the formation of the national lists of archaeologists, archivists, librarians, demoethnoanthropologists, physical anthropologists, experts in diagnostics and applied science and technology for cultural heritage, and art historians, possessing the requirements identified pursuant to Law No. 110 of July 22, 2014). It establishes the procedures and requirements for the inclusion of professionals in the national lists.
The rule expresses here the desire to overcome interpretative ambiguities about the tasks, skills, activities and knowledge related to the profile of the archivist and assimilates a common terminology that should guard against misunderstandings with respect to other emerging professional figures who, although they define themselves by different designations, perform the same identified activities.
With Ministerial Decree No. 241 of October 1, 2021, Regulations concerning the functions, organization and operation of the Schools of Archival, Paleographic and Diplomatic Studies of the State Archives, in implementation of Article 9, paragraphs 3 and 4, of Legislative Decree No. 368 of October 20, 1998, a reform has been put place. Awaited for years, it finally aligns with the changing needs of archivists’ training with respect to the evolution of the discipline and the evolution of the labor market and ensures quality of content, selection and verification.
On this imaginary line of time, therefore, the most important normative references at the national level and in connection with the European regulations that in the last twenty years have set milestones with regard to the definition of the archivist’s profile, role and functions identified. The evolution of archival science and the introduction of models of representation, standards that have contributed to enrich the skills of archivists in relation to the digital dimension both in terms of the activity of planning, management and preservation of archives and in terms of the activity of representation of the documentary heritage were highlighted.
The effort to harmonize legal norms with regard to archival activity and the practical fallout in the professional dimension highlighted.
In this respect, our professional world has grown a great deal, and the change of professional vision is underway and it is in a constant motion.
However, what we have achieved is not an end. The speed of work transformation, the increasingly transversal and trans- disciplinary dimension that characterize today’s activities the world of information and data, their reuse in digital transformation and the irruption of new technologies once again impose a rethinking. A rethinking of the ways, processes and skills that archivists must necessarily equip themselves with in a process of intelligent sharing and in a context of codified, not tacit, knowledge to produce other quality knowledge.
Thus, along an imaginary timeline, it is important to outline the goals to put in place. Professional quality and high specialization, academic training related to the labor market, continuing education, alternative knowledge and skills, listening, communication, constant dialogue with other professionals, ability to solve problems quickly and appropriately, ability to interpret the needs of the company/body/user, ability to team up and know how to adapt, real understanding as an attitude to strive for.
There is no magic formula to understand what the future prospects will be, but first there is the awareness of who we are and how day by day we face the very fast changes. There is the careful observation of what happens around us, of how the society, technologies, the regulatory context with the ability to project our work into the future.
The perspectives on our profession will be dictated by the ability to observe and reflect on these phenomena and in deducing what will allow us to be competitive and in step with the times. The timeliness of our actions will be decisive. The archival profession is a profession on the move while maintaining essential principles and identities. Already in this present, it experiments with new and possible activities and it is able to evaluate which updates, which new skills it must acquire in new contexts that are also on the move and moving fast and which are the present and future critical issues to determine changes and changes that we must demand. High attention and pragmatism are the keywords.
Above all, there is a need for tireless external communication work in every reality of civil society by reducing the distance that separates us from the individual, the citizen, the school, the most popular circle. This could happen through simple and therefore revolutionary language and through the telling of facts, rights, universal and personal memories capable of arousing emotions in which each individual can recognize himself. Moreover, to overcome the cultural gap in the dimension of professional identity that transcends the professional dimension and reaches the social dimension, the key word could be archival empathy.
Elio Lodolini, Lineamenti di storia dell’archivistica italiana, Roma, 1996
E. Lodolini, Archivistica. Principi e problemi, Milano, 2000,
Codice dei beni culturali e del paesaggio, 2004
Codice dell’amministrazione digitale, 2005 (con modifiche al 2017)
M. Guercio, Archivistica informatica, Roma, 2013
A. Deiana, Associazioni professionali 2.0. Novità, requisiti, orizzonti di sviluppo alla luce della Legge n. 4/2013 e del Decreto Legislativo n. 13/2013, Il Sole 24 ore, 2013
G. Michetti, La norma UNI 11536 sulla figura professionale dell’archivista, in Bibliotecario e archivista nelle norme Uni 11535:2014 e UNI 11536:2014, AIB studi, 2015
AgID, Linee Guida sulla formazione, gestione e conservazione dei documenti informatici, 2020
P. Carucci, M. Guercio, Manuale di archivistica, Roma, 2021
Regolamento concernente le funzioni, l’organizzazione e il funzionamento delle Scuole di archivistica, paleografia e diplomatica degli Archivi di Stato, in attuazione dell’articolo 9, commi 3 e 4, del decreto legislativo 20 ottobre 1998, n. 368