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The Office of the Auditor General’s investigation into the efforts to secure and make accessible the archives in the municipal sector

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Summary

Background and goal of the investigation

The risk of extensive loss of irreplaceable archive material was an important reason for the introduction of the Norwegian Archives Act, which entered into force in 1999. The Act is intended to ensure that archives worthy of preservation are preserved and made accessible for posterity. Municipal and county authority archives are of material importance to the due process protection of Norwegian citizens, as a basis for decisions for the government administration and as historical sources.

The goal of the Office of the Auditor General’s investigation has been to evaluate the extent to which the Ministry of Culture has fulfilled its responsibility for ensuring that valuable archive material in municipalities and county authorities is preserved and made accessible for posterity.

Method

The investigation’s lines of inquiry were pursued using document analysis, interviews, questionnaire surveys, lists of questions and statistics. The investigation period was from 1999 to 2009.

Results

The investigation shows a failure to secure and make accessible archive material in the municipal sector. In the Office of the Auditor General’s opinion, the failure to secure this material increases the risk that a great deal of valuable material may be lost. The investigation also shows that the Ministry of Culture’s overall management and follow-up of this sector is inadequate.

Moreover, the investigation shows that during the period 2000-2009, around 300 municipalities have reported shortcomings relating to their archive premises. Roughly one in three municipalities state that only to a small or very small extent are the physical requirements (premises, shelf space etc.) for preserving their paper-based archive material in place. Nearly 40 per cent of municipalities and one in three county administrations state that unsatisfactory premises can, to a large or very large extent, result in the loss of archive material and lack of accessibility.

The investigation shows that few electronic systems in the municipal sector have been designed with a view to securing valuable documentation for posterity. The situation is particularly critical for systems used to support case processing in the different fields in the sector. Such systems are used by social services, care services and child welfare services, among others. The electronic documentation stored in these systems has only been secured for posterity in a few cases. In the Office of the Auditor General’s opinion, this entails a high risk of loss of electronic documentation of considerable legal, administrative and historical value.

Much archive material is also inaccessible to users because of insufficient systemisation of documentation and a lack of services aimed at the general public. There is also a great need to increase the municipalities’ expertise in securing archives and making them accessible.

The investigation shows significant weaknesses in the Ministry’s management information and in the management dialogue with the National Archival Services of Norway about the challenges facing the municipal archive sector. The Office of the Auditor General questions whether the Ministry's management and follow-up of the work of the National Archival Services of Norway in relation to the municipal archive sector has been adequate. In light of the substantial preservation challenges in relation to electronic archive material, the Office of the Auditor General is of the opinion that the Ministry must give priority to the dialogue with the Director General of the National Archives of Norway about long-term storage of electronic archive material in the municipal sector.

The National Archival Services of Norway exercises little supervision of the archives in the municipal sector, and the results of its supervisory activities are not followed up by the Director General of the National Archives. There is therefore reason to question whether the Director General of the National Archives has satisfactorily fulfilled his supervisory responsibilities. The regulations concerning what is to be preserved or disposed of are out of date, and few municipalities and county authorities receive guidance from the National Archival Services of Norway about such matters. In the Office of the Auditor General’s view, the advisory function of the National Archival Services of Norway should be strengthened, and the work of revising the regulations should be given high priority by the Ministry.

Ministry/ministries:

Riksrevisjonen, Storgata 16, P.O. Box 8130 Dep, 0032 Oslo, Norway

Phone: +47 22 24 10 00

Org.nr: 974 760 843