1.0, November 2015
The policy describes the National Archives of Australia’s approach to managing Commonwealth records of continuing value that are in the custody of an organisation other than the Archives. The approach is described as a distributed custody model.
The policy applies to records of continuing value in all formats and:
This policy provides a framework to support the long-term care and preservation of records of continuing value which are held outside the custody of the Archives.
The need for a clearly articulated distributed custody model to support the increasing number of digital records being held outside the Archives’ custody was identified by the Archives Digital Business Roadmap which outlines a strategic and integrated approach to the management of digital records.
Digital technologies and business processes have contributed to rapidly increasing volumes of digital information being produced and stored by Australian Government agencies. Due to the complexity of the systems storing this information, and the nature of digital records themselves, there is an increasing need for agencies to retain information beyond the period when it would normally be transferred to the Archives.
Records in both digital and physical formats may be retained by controlling agencies or housed with other organisations for a number of reasons including ongoing business needs, the need for specialist knowledge to interpret the information, or to deliver enhanced access to records. Such an arrangement is referred to as 'distributed custody'. Custody refers to responsibility for the care of records based on their physical possession. It differs from 'care' which relates to responsibility for records regardless of their custody.
In a distributed custody arrangement, custody is by the organisation where the records are held, but care remains with the Archives.
Under the 'Acquisition Policy [for] Personal Records' the Archives collects personal records of significant individuals who serve within, or are closely associated with, the Australian Government. This policy supports obligations covered in the deed of gift arrangements with personal records donors and the transfer of custody of personal records collections.
Under the Act, the Archives' functions are to:
Section 3C of the Act authorises the Director-General of the Archives to determine the 'archival resources of the Commonwealth', that is those records of continuing value to the Government, the Australian community and individual citizens. Section 27 provides for the transfer of records of continuing value from the controlling agency into the care of the Archives within a specified timeframe ie 15 years.
According to the Act, a record is in the care of the Archives if:
Sections 29 and 64 of the Act support a distributed custody model, with both sections providing for records to be retained in the custody of the controlling agency. In addition, section 64 provides for records to be transferred from the Archives' custody to the custody of an individual or an institution (which may include the controlling agency, another agency or a private institution).
Section 29 refers to records exempted from transfer to the Archives and states:
Section 64 refers to custody of records and states:
In addition, Section 64(2) outlines the conditions and care arrangements that must be provided by the custodial organisation. This includes allowing regular inspections by the Archives; enabling the Archives to meet obligations under the Act such as access to records; and if required, transferring the material to the Archives.
This policy supports the establishment of distributed custody arrangements under section 64 of the Act. This provides for records to be retained by the controlling agency or their agent, as well as the transfer of records from the Archives to another party. It also sets out the requirements which must be met to ensure the ongoing care and preservation of, and access to, records in a distributed custody arrangement.
The Policy covers records which are:
The criteria for entering into distributed custody arrangements are defined in the implementation guidelines but, in general, relate to:
The policy excludes records which are of temporary value as they are not required to be transferred to the custody of the Archives. The guidance and governance provided in this policy may however be useful to agencies in the management of long-term temporary records which remain in their custody.
Records of continuing value are those Commonwealth records which have been identified as 'archival resources of the Commonwealth' under section 3C of the Act. These records may also be referred to as records of continuing, ongoing or permanent value, or as 'RNA' (Retain as National Archives). This also includes other records of national significance or public interest (ie non–Commonwealth records) which have been identified as part of the archival resources of the Commonwealth, for example personal records of individuals who have held prominent positions in the Commonwealth.
Distributed custody is defined as an arrangement whereby records are managed by another party in facilities not under the control of the Archives beyond the period where they would normally be transferred to the Archives or at the request of a personal donor. It covers situations where records are retained by an agency, as well as those where the records are transferred from the Archives' custody to a custodial organisation. The custodial organisation may be the creating or controlling agency, or other organisations such as a community or private organisation.
The default position as provided for under the Act is for all records assessed as being of continuing value to be transferred to the custody of the Archives.
However, in certain circumstances it may be necessary or preferable for records to remain with the controlling agency or to be transferred to another organisation. The Archives and the custodial organisation will then establish a distributed custody arrangement under section 64 of the Act.
The policy applies to all distributed custody arrangements which are entered into from the date of approval of this policy, as well as to existing distributed custody arrangements as they are reviewed. It applies to records in all formats, whether physical or digital.
Section 64 states that arrangements for records to be kept in the custody of an institution other than the Archives must provide for the care of that material. As defined in section 37, care includes custody, preservation and access.
The Archives' custody model is a 'centralised model' as defined by the Council of Australasian Archives and Records Authorities (CAARA)1. The centralised model means that the majority of records of continuing value are transferred to the Archives when they fall out of regular business use, or at the latest, within 15 years from the date of creation.
By exception, some records are managed under distributed custody arrangements. CAARA identifies three models for distributed custody arrangements where records of continuing value are not held by the archival authority. These are:
The Archives current distributed custody model supports the single agency and private / community organisation models. Future adoption of a regional repository model is not excluded.
The Archives custody model provides for exceptions to be made where necessary and for arrangements for the management of records to be formally agreed upon and documented. An essential element of this model is that the Archives retains ultimate control of, and responsibility for, all records of continuing value including those not in the Archives' custody. This also extends to the valuation of records, that is, the Archives will account for the value of records net held in its custody in its financial statements.
The framework consists of six elements:
Both the custodial organisation and the Archives have responsibilities in a distributed custody arrangement to ensure that obligations under the Act are met.
The custodial organisation is the organisation which has custody of the records. This may be the creating or controlling agency, or a third party.
Custodial organisations which are not the controlling agency will have responsibility from the point of entering into a formal agreement.
Adopting a distributed custody model does not prevent the Archives from eventually accepting custody of records of continuing value (see section 64 (2) (d)). Good governance through formal arrangements supports future transfer of records as opportunities arise.
Implementation guidelines (to be developed) support both the Archives and custodial agency procedures for managing the establishment and ongoing maintenance of distributed custody arrangements. The guidelines may also be applied to existing distributed custody arrangements as they are reviewed.
The guidelines include:
The following table outlines roles and responsibilities for implementation of the distributed custody policy. The Branches listed have primary responsibility for the roles indicated, but action should be undertaken in consultation with relevant stakeholders, both internal and external.
|Roles within Archives||Responsibilities|
Approval of policy
Identification of potential custodial organisations for distributed custody arrangements
Government Information Assurance and Policy (records not in Archives’ custody)
Establishment and monitoring of distributed custody arrangements
Development and maintenance of implementation guidelines and advice for custodial organisations
Ensure terms and conditions of section 64 agreement are met
Custodial organisation and the Archives (through Collection Management, and Government Information Assurance and Policy)
There are a number of benefits for the Archives, controlling agencies and custodial organisations, as well as the public, in a distributed custody model for records of continuing value.
Benefits for all parties in establishing a formal distributed custody arrangement include:
In addition, the expected benefits for the Archives are:
The expected additional benefits for custodial organisations are:
The expected benefits for the community include:
The following major risks and associated mitigation strategies have been identified for the Archives and for custodial organisations.
|Major Risks||Mitigating Strategies|
Archives does not meet its obligations under the Act.
Provide custodial organisations with guidance and support to ensure proper care and preservation of, and access to, records in their custody.
Custodial agencies do not have the skills or resources to meet obligations under section 64 agreement.
Provide custodial organisations with adequate guidance and support to ensure proper care and preservation of, and access to, records in their custody.
Archives does not have sufficient resources available to undertake support and monitoring activities.
Develop standardised, streamlined arrangements (eg standard advice on website).
Archival resources become too dispersed.
Ensure distributed custody arrangements are only entered into according to agreed criteria.
Negative impact on Archives’ reputation due to perceived lack of relevance.
Maintain Archives' custody as the default, and only enter into distributed custody arrangements according to agreed criteria.
Collection Management, in consultation with Government Information Assurance and Policy, Access and Communications and other relevant internal and external stakeholders, will review this Policy every 3 years. Supporting documents will be reviewed at least every 3 years or as required.
The policy will also be evaluated at the time of review to assess whether objectives have been met.
This policy has been approved by:
National Archives of Australia