Define: Archival Integrity

Archival Integrity
Archival Integrity
Quick Summary of Archival Integrity

Archival integrity refers to the principle that archival materials should be preserved and maintained in their original form, without any unauthorised alterations or modifications. It is a fundamental concept in the field of archival science and is crucial for ensuring the authenticity, reliability, and trustworthiness of archival records.

The concept of archival integrity is rooted in the idea that archives serve as evidence of past events and actions, and therefore, any tampering or manipulation of archival materials can undermine their evidentiary value. Archivists have a professional and ethical responsibility to uphold the principle of archival integrity by taking appropriate measures to protect and preserve archival records.

These measures may include implementing strict access controls, employing proper storage and handling techniques, using standardised preservation methods, and documenting any changes or interventions made to archival materials. Archivists may also employ digital preservation techniques to safeguard electronic records and ensure their long-term accessibility and integrity.

In legal contexts, archival integrity is particularly important, as archival records often serve as crucial evidence in legal proceedings. Courts and other legal authorities rely on the authenticity and reliability of archival materials to establish facts, resolve disputes, and make informed decisions. Any breach of archival integrity can have serious legal consequences, including the exclusion of evidence or the questioning of the credibility of archival records.

Archival integrity is protected by various laws and regulations, both at the national and international levels. These laws may impose legal obligations on individuals and organisations responsible for the custody and management of archival materials, requiring them to take the necessary steps to preserve the integrity of the records under their care.

Overall, archival integrity is a fundamental principle that ensures the preservation and trustworthiness of archival records. It is essential for maintaining the historical record, facilitating research, and upholding the rule of law. Archivists, legal professionals, and policymakers must work together to promote and protect archival integrity in order to safeguard the integrity and authenticity of our collective memory.

What is the dictionary definition of Archival Integrity?
Dictionary Definition of Archival Integrity

Archival integrity refers to the quality and state of preservation of archival materials, such as documents, records, or artefacts, over time. It encompasses the principles, practices, and measures employed to ensure the authenticity, accuracy, completeness, and accessibility of these materials for future reference and research. Archival integrity involves the implementation of proper storage, handling, and conservation techniques, as well as the use of standardised metadata and documentation to facilitate the identification, tracking, and retrieval of archival items. It also includes the establishment of policies and procedures to prevent loss, damage, alteration, or unauthorised access to archival materials, thereby safeguarding their historical, cultural, and evidential value.

Full Definition Of Archival Integrity

Archival integrity refers to the principles and practices ensuring the authenticity, reliability, and usability of records over time. This concept is crucial in various fields, including history, law, and information science, as archives serve as vital sources of evidence and information. In the context of British law, archival integrity encompasses statutory regulations, standards, and ethical considerations that govern the management, preservation, and accessibility of records.

Historical Context

The evolution of archival integrity in Britain can be traced back to the establishment of the Public Record Office (PRO) in 1838. The PRO, now part of The National Archives (TNA), was created to centralise and safeguard public records. The Public Records Act 1958 further strengthened the legal framework by setting out responsibilities for record management and preservation within government departments. Subsequent legislation, such as the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 2018, has further influenced archival practices by emphasising transparency and privacy.

Legal Framework

Public Records Act 1958

The Public Records Act 1958 is a cornerstone of archival legislation in the UK. It mandates that public records be systematically managed and preserved. The Act establishes the TNA’s role in supervising record-keeping practices and ensuring the proper transfer of records from government departments. Key provisions include:

  1. Definition and Management of Public Records: The Act defines public records broadly, covering documents created or received by government departments in the course of their operations. It mandates the creation of retention schedules to guide the disposal or preservation of records.
  2. Transfer and Preservation: Departments must transfer records to the TNA or other approved repositories after a specified period, typically 20 years. This transfer ensures long-term preservation and accessibility.
  3. Access and Use: The Act allows for public access to records once they are transferred, subject to certain exemptions for national security, personal privacy, and other sensitive matters.

Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA) promotes transparency by granting the public a right of access to information held by public authorities. This Act has significant implications for archival integrity, as it requires public bodies to manage records in a way that ensures they can be retrieved and disclosed upon request. Key elements include:

  1. Right of Access: The FOIA grants individuals the right to request information from public authorities, including records held in archives. Authorities must respond within 20 working days.
  2. Exemptions: While the Act promotes openness, it also provides exemptions to protect sensitive information, such as personal data, national security, and commercial interests.
  3. Records Management: To comply with FOIA, public authorities must implement robust records management practices to ensure that information can be located, retrieved, and disclosed efficiently.

Data Protection Act 2018

The Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) aligns UK law with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and regulates the processing of personal data. Archival institutions must navigate the DPA to balance privacy rights with the need to preserve and provide access to records. Key aspects include:

  1. Lawful Basis for Processing: Archival institutions must have a lawful basis for processing personal data. The DPA recognises archiving in the public interest as a legitimate basis, allowing archives to process personal data for historical, research, and statistical purposes.
  2. Data Subject Rights: The DPA grants individuals rights over their personal data, such as the right to access, rectify, and erase data. However, certain rights may be restricted when data is processed for archiving purposes.
  3. Safeguards: Archives must implement appropriate safeguards to protect personal data, including measures to ensure data security, confidentiality, and integrity.

Standards and Best Practices

In addition to statutory requirements, archival integrity is upheld through adherence to standards and best practices. Notable standards include:

ISO 15489: Records Management

ISO 15489 provides a framework for effective records management, covering the creation, capture, and control of records. It emphasises the importance of:

  1. Authenticity: Ensuring that records are what they purport to be and have not been altered or tampered with.
  2. Reliability: Ensuring that records accurately reflect the events or transactions they document.
  3. Usability: Ensuring that records can be located, retrieved, and interpreted over time.
  4. Integrity: Ensuring that records are complete and unaltered, with appropriate controls to prevent unauthorised access or modification.

ISO 14721: Open Archival Information System (OAIS)

The OAIS standard provides a reference model for digital preservation, addressing the challenges of maintaining digital records over time. Key components include:

  1. Ingest: Processes for receiving and verifying records to be preserved.
  2. Archival Storage: Processes for storing, managing, and protecting records, including backup and disaster recovery.
  3. Data Management: Processes for maintaining metadata and ensuring the ongoing accessibility and usability of records.
  4. Access: Processes for providing access to records, including retrieval, delivery, and user support.

Ethical Considerations

Archival integrity also involves ethical considerations, as archivists must navigate complex issues related to privacy, confidentiality, and the public interest. Professional bodies, such as the Archives and Records Association (ARA), provide ethical guidelines to support archivists in their decision-making. Key principles include:

  1. Accountability: Archivists must be accountable for their actions and decisions, ensuring transparency and openness.
  2. Confidentiality: Archivists must respect the confidentiality of sensitive information and protect individuals’ privacy rights.
  3. Impartiality: Archivists must act impartially, avoiding bias or influence from external parties.
  4. Professionalism: Archivists must maintain high standards of professional conduct, continually developing their knowledge and skills.

Challenges and Future Directions

While the legal framework and standards provide a robust foundation for archival integrity, several challenges remain. These include:

Digital Preservation

The increasing volume of digital records presents significant challenges for archival integrity. Digital records are vulnerable to technological obsolescence, media degradation, and cybersecurity threats. Archives must adopt advanced technologies and practices to ensure the long-term preservation and accessibility of digital records.

Balancing Access and Privacy

Archives must balance the public’s right to access information with the need to protect personal privacy. This balance is particularly challenging in the context of digital records, where large volumes of personal data may be embedded in electronic documents.

Resource Constraints

Archival institutions often face resource constraints, including limited funding, staffing, and infrastructure. These constraints can impact their ability to implement best practices and meet legal requirements. Advocacy and investment in archival services are essential to address these challenges.

International Collaboration

Archival integrity is a global issue, as records often cross national boundaries. International collaboration and harmonisation of standards are crucial to ensuring the preservation and accessibility of records worldwide. Initiatives such as the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme promote international cooperation and the safeguarding of documentary heritage.


Archival integrity is a multifaceted concept encompassing legal, ethical, and practical dimensions. In the UK, a robust legal framework, including the Public Records Act 1958, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the Data Protection Act 2018, underpins archival practices. Adherence to international standards, such as ISO 15489 and ISO 14721, further supports the authenticity, reliability, and usability of records. Ethical considerations guide archivists in navigating complex issues related to privacy and public interest. Despite ongoing challenges, including digital preservation and resource constraints, archival institutions play a crucial role in preserving the nation’s documentary heritage. Through continued investment, innovation, and collaboration, the integrity of archives can be maintained for future generations.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 7th June 2024.

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