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Records and archives management - a Papua New Guinea report

John Evans
South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development (SP­CenCIID)
University of Papua New Guinea

Firstly, one of the many things I know little about is records and archives management. However, this is the first FID meeting in which Papua New Guinea will appear as a national member, represented by this new Centre at the University of Papua New Guinea. The Centre will take on and develop the functions of the Department of Library and Information Studies and the Journalism Section of the Department of Language and Literature at the university. It is important, at such a time, that the Centre does contribute to special interest groups and accept invitations for information made to it. This will begin the process of our involvement in FID activities as a national member.

Papua New Guinea's earlier involvement with FID owes much to the interest of Dr Ian Dickson, President of FID/CAO. Margaret Obi, Acting Director of the Centre, was able to make a presentation on the situation in Papua New Guinea, to the FID/CAO meeting in Seoul in 1990.(1) FID/CAO/ET has also been of assistance in programme development in the information field at the University of Papua New Guinea.(2) Lastly, it is important to note the contribution of FID Vice-President, Dr Woody Horton, in encouraging us to apply for national membership.

SP-CenCIID will provide a programme in records and a archives management and will build on a modest start made by Department of Library and Information Studies. The programme origins owe much to the interest of Nancy Lutton (then of the National Archives and Public Records Service of Papua New Guinea) and her staff. Sam Kaima of University of Papua New Guinea (now on PhD studies at Monash University, Australia) began teaching the programme and conducted workshops at various points in the country to raise interest and awareness and will be closely involved in the future directions of our programmes. External monitoring, assistance and expertise has come from Dr Peter Orlovich, of the University of New South Wales. Dr Orlovich has been involved both in teaching and course development with funding from the International Development Programme of the Australian Universities. He has also served as a link with PARBICA (the Pacific Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives). It is as a participant in the planning stages of these developments that I am best able to give a brief description of what has happened. It is based on recent accounts by Lutton (3) and Kaima (4-6) and includes portions of the very recent legislation (7).

Papua New Guinea

The last time I had the chance to speak of events in Papua New Guinea, this was presented alongside accounts from China and India. In this case, it appears, it will be the World Bank and Italy! Fine indications of the contrasts in the information world. Despite such formidable platform companions, Papua New Guinea is counted as one a small countries in terms of population (under 4,000,000) but with a substantial land area. It is categorized by great linguistic, cultural and genetic diversity, and poor infrastructure. Modern information infrastructure is equally poor, although, as a bright spot, telecommunications are above average for developing countries. The indigenous knowledge base is also of considerable importance. Papua New Guinea's National membership in FID may mark the beginnings of important changes in Papua New Guinea's relationships in the international information field, and that is the hope of SPCenCIID. Generally, things have gone on in none too splendid isolation, and while worthwhile things have been done, leverage from the effort put in has been very limited. The records and archives management training is rather more noteworthy and allied and very similar pathways are likely to be followed in Department of Library & Information Studies Botswana which exercises considerable influence in the eastern and southern african region.

Office of Libraries and Archives

This Office includes the National Archives and Public Records Service of Papua New Guinea. In June 1990 the National Executive Council (Papua New Guinea's Cabinet) approved in Decision 118/90:-

-the establishment of an Office of Libraries and Archives, headed by a Director who reports directly to a designated Minister, and

-the drafting of the National Library & Archives Bill

This new Office is intended to carry out the role of co-ordinating, directing and planning libraries and archives development in the country. Initially, the National Library and the National Archives will be the major components of the Office.

Within the Office the functions of the Director - General, as stated in the Act of 1993 are:-

-to manage, control and direct the affairs of the Office;

-to co-ordinate the planning and implementation of a national policy on libraries, archives and information services;

-to encourage and promote the publication and display of appropriate materials by the Office;

-to administer grants to promote the Office and to advise government on the allocation of priorities for projects funded by outside agencies;

-to undertake the necessary consultation and liaison to ensure that the functions of the Office are carried out effectively and efficiently;

-and such other functions as are given to him under this Act or any other law;

-and to act on behalf of the government in relation to the administration of a trust relating to library and archival materials.

The Director-General has power to approve the allocation of aid assistance to libraries and archives in order to assist national library and archival development.

National Archives and Public Records Service (3)

The National Archives has been subject to a few transfers; from the Interior Ministry to the new National Library Service in 1975; from the National Library to the Department of Administrative Services in 1985 (and then back again in the same year. Currently it is firmly linked with the National Library within the Office of Libraries and Archives .

In 1905 the then Government Secretary of Papua saw the need for proper records management but there was no attempt to establish an Archives. Neither did German New Guinea have an Archives, nor its successor Australian New Guinea. Indeed, the records were considered to belong to the colonial power and in the 1930's, the captured German New Guinea records were sent to Australia. As it happened, this was fortunate, for in 1942 all Australian New Guinea records were destroyed by enemy action. In Papua, there was time to save most of the records, and they were sent to Australia in 1942, but much was still lost.

After the war, with the administration now centred in Port Moresby, the Government Secretary's Office resumed its records keeping role, but then a fire destroyed most of the records in 1949. At this time, the Commonwealth Archives Office in Canberra considered itself the archives for Papua New Guinea and it was certainly concerned about the fire at the Government Secretary's Office. In 1955 they sent an officer to Papua New Guinea to survey the records and make recommendations. This he did, recommending that an Archives Office be established in Port Moresby.

The first Archives Office, established in 1957, was located in the basement of the then Legislative Council, later House of Assembly building in MacGregor Street, and remained there till 1972 when the Archives became the first government building to be erected in Waigani. Within a decade, that building was full, and a new building was erected and opened in 1988. The old building is still retained as a repository and the present arrangements are that the older or most frequently used records are housed in the new building, in which there is also an attractive reading room and full archival service. Records less than 30 years old, some of which may not be retained permanently, are now housed in the old building.

The Australian Archives have agreed that the pre-war records of Papua New Guinea that they were holding should be returned after microfilming. The German New Guinea archives have been more difficult to arrange, but recently the German Archives in Bonn, offered to provide a German speaking indexer to work on the records if Australian Archives would provide a microfilm. This has been the subject of a recent international agreement between the three parties concerned. A difficult task within the country is the appraisal and transfer of public records in the various government departments. Most offices are poorly organized and without system and therefore it is difficult to identify which records should be culled for destruction or for permanent retention. There is also the endemic problem of lack of sufficient trained staff to cope with he movement of records within the departments.

Once the records arrive and become archives, much work needs to be done to gain intellectual control over them so that researchers can make use of them, or we can locate them for loan back to the department concerned. Because National Archives has had only one professional archivist at any one time, and often none, until as recently as 1986, researchers in Papua New Guinea have had to laboriously wade through lists of files under departmental accessions, to find what they want. There would be in the vicinity of 200,000 files at National Archives. Recently it has been possible to commence the professional archival technique of series description, which involves researching administrative histories, description of the contents of series, and identifying index terms relating to place, ethnic groups and people. Computerization is expected to improve on this situation.

The National Microfilm Laboratory is part of the National Archives. Its functions are to advise government departments on their microfilming needs and to carry out microfilming projects. At present there is a major project underway in the filming of all Patrol Reports(over 30,000 items) held by the National Archives assisted by the University of California, San Deigo.

Conservation is an area in which there is little progress - the new archives building not having a conservation laboratory.

The National Archives, while based in the capital Port Moresby, has a branch in the second city of Lae in Morobe province. Papua New Guinea has a provincial government system and each province has a Provincial Government (some of which are suspended from time to time) and a Department of the Province. These bodies also produce records and the issue of provincial archives is a vexing one, as recent fires at Wabag and Wewak, and the destruction of records proves.

Archives legislation and policy

Legislation relating to the Office has only recently passed through Parliament as the Libraries and Archives Act of 1993. The legislation emphasizes the many points of contact felt by the National Library Service to exist between libraries and archives, and provides the necessary statutory powers for the operations of the National Library and National Archives. The legislation was felt to be needed (8) in order:-

-To give the National Library and National Archives a separate legal status in dealing with other departments, organizations, the public, and to establish them as legal entities'

-To define the respective roles and functions of the National Library and National Archives in serving the people of Papua New Guinea.

-To establish the machinery to plan and co-ordinate libraries and archives development in Papua New Guinea, and promote effective co-operation between such services;

-To confer necessary powers to enable the National Library to carry out its many designated functions;

-To provide the powers to enable the National Library to set and enforce standards for libraries, and permit regular inspectional visits;

-To permit the National Library to enter into agency agreements with government instrumentalities to administer their libraries, provided that adequate resources are made available by the requesting office or agency;

-To permit the National Archives to preserve records of permanent value, promote better records keeping practices, ensure proper disposal, lay down rules of access to information, and co-ordinate archives administration.

The 1993 legislation gives the functions of the National Archives and Public Records Service as:-

(a) to ensure the conservation and preservation of the existing and future public and other archival resources of Papua New Guinea; and

(b) to control the disposal of public records; and

(c) to inspect and appraise all public records (including those restricted to normal access); and

(d) to accept the deposit of public archives and be responsible for their safe custody; and

(e) to accept the custody and management of non-public archives that are considered to be of National significance; and

(f) to have responsibility for the custody, regulation and management of public records which are required so infrequently in the conduct of current business that they can be transferred to a separate storage area; and

(g) to promote better management of public records and archives in an efficient and economical manner in government instrumentalities by providing advice and assistance in a way that will facilitate their use as part of the country's informational and archival resources; and

(h) to provide advice and assistance to individuals and institutions having custody of non-public records; and

(i) to promote and facilitate the use of archival sources, including arranging for publication of significant archives and indexes or other guides to archival material; and

(j) to provide assistance and facilities for persons using the archives; and

(k) to record details regarding the structure and function, or changes thereto, of any government instrumentality; and

(l) to take measures for conservation and restoration of archives; and

(m) to make copies of archives and other records by microform or other means; and

(n) to make arrangements for the acquisition, copying or custody of archival resources of Papua New Guinea, whether the resources are held in Papua New Guinea or overseas; and

(o) to ascertain the material that constitutes the archival resources of Papua New Guinea and produce a national register or archives in Papua New Guinea; and

(p) to train and assist in training of persons for the purpose of this Act; and

(q) to plan and develop the co-ordination of activities relating to the management and preservation of public records and archives throughout Papua New Guinea; and

(r) to maintain contact with overseas experts and institutions to further the development of archives in Papua New Guinea and exchange information on holdings and research in archival administration; and

(s) to carry out other functions that are necessary for maintenance, care, custody and control of public archives in Papua New Guinea.

The idea of a joint framework for libraries and archives, would appear to derive more from thinking at the National Library than from the archives community. While such joint ventures do exist in very small countries, eg. Kiribati and Tuvalu and they have had their proponents (9), there is equally a weight of evidence on the contrary, especially deriving from Australian experience. One obvious point is that in such arrangements libraries may be led by people with archives training and vice versa. This appears to be what is happening and is worrying for the utilization of the careful concentration of talents that has been built up at the National Archives over many years.

In a similar piece of less than consultative work, the policy on Library and Information Services developed by a Working Party of the Library Council of Papua New Guinea, has been converted into a National policy on Libraries and Archives. This policy is based on Unesco guidelines and while it appears appropriate for libraries and information services, it has little relevance for archives in its present form. The word archive being scattered through the policy without open involvement of archivists or of Departments whose archives are held by the National Archives.

Education and training provisions

Certificate in Information Studies (Records and Archives Management) - CIS(RAM)

This is a one year programme intended for those in records sections in Papua New Guinea. There are two six week Lahara (summer school) sessions and one year of project assignments at work in between, with supervisory visits. All students are employed and recommended by their employers. The course is at a basic level but is proving popular and it is likely that higher levels may be made available in the future, when the course coordinator completes PhD studies. The following is the content of the current programme:-

Lahara one: Principles of records management

1. Role of records management

1.1. Registry : Functions and procedures

1.2. Distribution and dispatch of mail

1.3. File movement and retrieval

1.4. Filing and file maintenance

1.5. Closure of files

1.6. Packaging and equipment

2. Records survey

2.1. Aims of survey

2.2. Selling the survey

2.3. Questionnaires

2.4. Designing the survey

3. Principles of records and archival management

4. Problems of records management in Papua New Guinea

5. Information management/technology

6. History and theory of records and archives management in Papua New Guinea and the region.

To allow students to actually apply the principles and theories discussed during the Lahara major projects will have to be done during the year. These assignments will be focused on the actual working environment in their own registries. The project should be taken to meet a priority problem area associated with current records management problems.

All students will have to attend a second Lahara session the following year to review and discuss the arrangements, issues, problems associated with their work place and to study a selection of more advanced topics. Records management practice in the various companies and government departments are varied in the extreme. This pattern of practical work is of considerable use to both staff and students in comparing practice and in looking at varying solutions to common problems.

Distance and continuing education

At the University of the South Pacific (a regional university) a high priority has been placed on distance and continuing education but owing to variable resources coverage at the University of Papua New Guinea has been patchy. Two major periods of activity in continuing education have been in 1981-84 by Administrative College and 1991-93 by the Department of Library and Information Studies. As part of the restructuring at the university has set up an Institute of Continuing and Distance Education one might expect a more consistent approach in the future. Records management has been the focus of workshops held by Mr Kaima. It is also considered to be suitable for a distance education programme in a region as widespread as the South Pacific, particularly at the beginning level that we now have.

Issues for the Special Interest Group?

Records and archives functions in Papua New Guinea present a very traditional aspect, and the above improvements have to be looked in the light of very significant problems. The human archive and its stores of indigenous knowledge is very much a peripheral issue, which it should not be in Papua New Guinea. With the current seminar looking at the way records and archives functions belong in a modern information infrastructure, it may be topical to think of ways that infrastructure can accommodate places such as Papua New Guinea.

A South Pacific regional programme

Ideally, of course, one would like to see everyone with an approved qualification in archives, and these are, in general, at a post-graduate level. However, most of the small archives in the region have staff at school leaving level. Training provisions for this group of staff must be geared accordingly, which is what the CIS(RAM) does. Dr. Orlovich has the hope that through PARBICA, say, it might be possible to develop a regional programme at an appropriate level, drawing on the CIS(RAM) experience and materials, while, in addition incorporating studies relating to the unique features of each countries administrative and archival history. Higher levels could be added to the Certificate as a cadre of students was produced, this gradually, but not too gradually building up the pool of qualified people, who in their turn could make an impact on archives development. The programme could apply to those in registries as well as those in archives. The programme might also be transferable to other regions.

Ideally, distance education materials and methods would be used in support of the programme, especially if it became one supported by the University of the South Pacific with its regional training responsibilities. Advanced material could be incorporated as soon as feasible and the assistance of this FID Special Interest Group in the design of such material might be an useful issue to follow up. The good work of Unesco RAMP is of course also there to be drawn upon.

Research agenda

Dr Orlovich at a Seminar given during Lahara 1992 outlined the extensive needs for research into the records and archives of Papua New Guinea. Unfortunately, this exceptionally useful account has not get been published. Mr Kaima has also begun a survey of archives within the country, funded by the University Research and Publications Committee and this plus his PhD studies promises some important results. However, the research agenda is vast, and this SIG may consider what can be done to develop that agenda and to implement it.

Development needs

Many of the countries and organizations represented at FID have a well developed information culture and have reached a stage where a critical mass of professionals and institutions can make, and can continue to make, rapid advances. This is not the case with the developing countries and the basket of needs grows ever larger. Special interest groups could consider what spin offs and applications their deliberations can have for such countries. The model of the IFLA Advancement of Librarianship programme is probably not one to follow but a genuine consideration in deliberations of what benefits the approaches, proposals and methods they are working on might have on less developed countries. It is better that such thinking is made too early, rather than too late, or not at all.

There should be an absent guest at every s.i.g. at least until such time as the presence of members from developing countries increases significantly and their concerns should be part of an open agenda. Communication of such ideas could be via regional newsletters, or brief manuals. It is the hope of SP-CenCIID that a network of such Centres could be created to assist with the interchange and diffusion of ideas in developing areas. As they would be created within institutions costs would be low, and communication can not be considered a problem, as Internet connections rapidly expand.


1. Margaret Obi, "Papua New Guinea - Case for a National Information Policy" In Ian Dickson and Lisa Dwyer, eds. National Information Policies for the Asia Oceania Region : proceedings of the Eleventh General Assembly and Congress of the International Federation for Information and Documentation Commission for Asia and Oceania, 29-31 October 1990. Clayton, Vic.: FID/CAO Secretariat, [1992?] . pp. 53-69.

2. Ian Dickson, "Programme development through a link scheme" FID News Bulletin, 43(4), 1993, pp. 75-76.

3. Nancy Lutton, "National Archives and Public Record Service:  past and present" in John Evans, comp. Papua New Guinea Libraries Plus : selected papers from conferences and seminars of the University of Papua New Guinea, Department of Library and Information Studies. Port Moresby : SP-CenCIID, 1994. pp. 162-165.

4. Sam Kaima, "Archives and records management training in Papua New Guinea" COMLA Newsletter, 76/77, June September 1992, pp. 20-24

5. Sam Kaima, "Archives and records management education in Papua New Guinea" Pacific Archives Journal, 10, 1990, 17-24.

6. Sam Kaima, "The development of a series of short workshops in archives and records management in Papua New Guinea" Archives and Manuscripts : Journal of the Australian Society of Archivists, 18(2), 1990, pp. 223-229.

7. National Library and Archives Act. (No. 31 of 1993)

8. Neil Nicholls, "Neither fish, fowl, nor good red herring" Fiji Library Association Journal, 30, 1993, pp. 111 - 128.

9. Kingo Mchombu, "Alternatives to the national library in Less developed Countries" Libri, 35 (1985), pp. 227-249.

PNGBUAI project information manager:
Dr. John Evans
SPCenCIID (South Pacific Centre for Communications and Information In Development) and University of Papua New Guinea

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