Information Awareness Month Launch at the National Archives of Australia, Parkes ACT Wednesday 1 May 2013

Speech by David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives of Australia

I am pleased that the National Archives is able to host the launch of Information Awareness Month this year. Information Awareness Month is a collaborative initiative of many organisations around Australia and I would like to acknowledge the contribution of all who work together to make it a success. There are too many to list, but the key partners in Canberra are:

  • Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia
  • Australian Society of Archivists
  • Institute for Information Management
  • actKM
  • Australian Library and Information Association
  • National Library of Australia.

Many of these organisations, as well as the state and territory archives and libraries, are participating in events in other cities during May.

I would also like to acknowledge strong support from the university sector. Universities are important partners for the Archives and, indeed, for all of us, in shaping our future and ensuring that we have the knowledge and skills to harness the exciting opportunities of the digital environment.

And I would especially like to acknowledge the University of Canberra – my alma mater – for their contribution to this event, and to welcome Dr Stuart Ferguson from Canberra University who will be addressing us later.

Welcome to you all.

As you probably know, this year's theme for National Information Awareness Month is Connecting Information and People – a critical issue for people for whom information is our currency, our stock in trade.

On the face of it, connecting information and people seems a straightforward enough proposition.

But all of us here today ­─ whether we're in government, business or the not-for-profit sector – know only too well that the exploding growth in information, and the technology used to create and share it, is staggering.

Not least for us at the National Archives.

We now operate in a global, digital environment with an infinite range of technologies to create, disseminate and manage information.

Ours is an increasingly hyper-connected environment where people and businesses can communicate with each other immediately and systems are equally connected.
Throw the growth of mobile devices, big data and social media into the mix and I think it's fair to say that this brave new world of connectivity can sometimes threaten to drown us in information.

There are apparent signs of information overload and information fatigue.

A recent article in the British Guardian newspaper warns that consuming too much news is bad for your health – and news, of course, is just one of the many forms of information we encounter on a daily basis. The author draws on a 2001 Canadian study which found that over-consumption of news disrupts concentration and weakens comprehension.

It's worse online – where comprehension decreases as the number of hyperlinks increases!

The article goes on to say that news grinds us down until we adopt a world view that is pessimistic, desensitised, sarcastic and fatalistic. I understand the scientific term for this is 'learned helplessness.'

This is indeed an extreme take on news consumption but I think it's a valid analysis of the information deluge we find ourselves immersed in.

On the other side of the equation, it also reflects the heightened expectations and demands for information – information that is instantly accessible, accurate and reliable.

While others in government might be frustrated by the increased demands of open government and other information reforms, the Archives has relished the opportunity to promote the information in our custody.

Access to information we hold underpins and protects the rights and entitlements of Australian people. This has recently been evidenced by the focus on records relating to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the independent task force investigating allegations of abuse in the Defence Organisation.

It is pleasing that the government and more Australian people want to engage with us and access the information that we hold for many different purposes.

This is highlighted by the willingness of Australians to embrace digital forms of information. In 2011–12, over 2.3 million records from our archival collection were accessed online. This figure has increased significantly in recent years, up from about 1.9 million in 2010–11.

Partnerships and collaboration across all sectors are essential to successfully navigate our way through a changing maze of technology and formats, ever-increasing volumes of information, and growing expectations from government, business and the community.

Information Awareness Month is a great example of collaboration in action.

It's a platform for information professionals to exert their influence and take a leading role in promoting innovation and, where necessary, changing perceptions and practices.

At the Archives, working in collaboration with other agencies, organisations and institutions is a top priority.

Leading the Digital Transition Policy – which aims to move all 200 Commonwealth Government departments and agencies to digital information management for efficiency purposes – our collaborative approach is delivering measurable change.

Through our Check-up 2.0 self-assessment process that is submitted by all government agencies, we are seeing great progress.

For example, according to information from agencies, the area of greatest improvement overall in the last two years was the level of support from senior management for information and records management. This is particularly encouraging: the government's Digital Transition Policy recognised that it was essential that this cultural change be driven from the top – and the people at the coal face in agencies tell us that it is happening.

As part of our leadership of digital transition in the Commonwealth, the Archives is also engaging with industry to encourage the evolution of appropriate products for the range of agencies across government.

Later this month we are presenting the first of our Industry Innovation Showcases to highlight innovative information management products and services that can help with digital transition and digital continuity in the Australian Government. Invitations will be going out shortly.

To ensure that we maintain momentum, the Archives has set a digital target for 2015. Records created after that date can be transferred to the Archives only in digital formats.

While the focus of this target is the relatively small proportion of records that are of archival value, I expect this to flow on to the wider information management environment.

In fact, we are working with agencies to gradually extend the 2015 target to other information and records that they create and receive. It is only sensible that this should happen, and when we achieve this we will have embedded digital practice.

We are also developing partnerships with industry, professional associations and the education sector to build an ongoing, industry-wide capability to manage digital information into the future.

This is core business for the Archives.

It accompanies our determination to better manage and digitise our traditional records, to support the increased intake of digital records, and to provide the best possible environment to preserve the information we hold to ensure its authenticity and accessibility over time.

As the custodians of the most important records of government, we have an abiding responsibility to make sure these records are secured, preserved and available to government and to the Australian people.

Through our national footprint, our offices in other capital cities, our collaboration with state and territory archives – we hold the memory of the nation.

Whether it's in Adelaide, where the plans for the Woomera testing site are held, or in Darwin, where the documentation of the Japanese bombing raids are stored, the information we hold tells the story of our nation.

The test for the Archives is to continue to ensure that we can define, preserve and share this story in the digital age.

For all of us whose stock in trade is information, the challenge is to embrace change.

It's a challenge that – working together – I'm convinced we are well on the way to meeting.

Thank you for joining us at the National Archives this afternoon. I am pleased to officially launch Information Awareness Month 2013.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2017