policy and resources
electronic access to the Archives
new policy for the Archives
Appendix: Council of Europe Archive Policy
At its meeting in December 2000,
the Rapporteur on Information asked the Secretariat to provide some
information about the Council of Europe Archives (hereafter referred
to as “The Archives”), with particular regard to:
The present policy and resources of the Archives
Providing electronic access to the Archives
Drawing up a new policy for the Archives.
Present policy and resources
The Central Archives are managed by the Division
of Documentary Information (Infodoc), which is part of the Directorate
of Communication and Research.
Since their creation in 1949 the Archives have
performed a vital function for the Secretariat.
Having always been there, the Archive office is occasionally
taken for granted. However,
the expansion of the Organisation and developments in information
technology have changed the nature of the work and made it necessary
to rethink how the archives function.
Archiving standards have also evolved.
To keep its house in order, the Council of Europe
needs to respect certain practices: correspondence must be kept;
contracts and signatures must be retained for legal purposes;
financial and personnel information has be filed so that it can be
easily retrieved. Such
archiving functions are performed in every department.
The costs are often hidden, since most of the staff involved
have other responsibilities.
At the beginning of the year Infodoc began a
thorough reappraisal of the work and procedures of the Archives,
making the development and modernisation of the Central Archives one
of its priorities.
What is in the Archives
The Archive collections fall into three
The Central Archives act as a depository for
almost all Departments “official” documents.
Under “official” documents are included treaties, adopted
texts, meeting reports, committee documents and statutory and
In practice, however, many documents are not
deposited. Part of the
work of the Central Archives is to chase missing documents to ensure
that the depository collection is as complete as possible.
This is a time-consuming activity.
The expansion of the number of documents produced
and improvements in technology have made it harder for the Central
Archives to keep track of documents.
It is often easier and more convenient for individuals to print
documents from their PC without passing by the central printing and
publishing services. Many
documents are now produced in this way.
This makes the Archive Office dependent on the individual who
printed the document sending a copy of that document to the Archives.
There is at present no easy way of determining how many
documents are produced.
This problem could be solved by the creation of a
central register of document references that would also serve as a
reservation system linked to existing document management tools.
A register would enable all documents to be traceable and would
serve to harmonise referencing and avoiding duplication of references.
Most Departments deposit files of internal
documents regularly in the Central Archives for retention for a
limited period (5, 10 or 20 years), after which they may be destroyed.
These collections are known as Intermediate or Administrative
A small number of services request their files to
be retained permanently, thus avoiding any decisions about what should
be kept. This has led to
large collections of material accumulating which have outlived their
This is contrary to standard archiving practice.
In principle, the issuing service should specify the period of
time that it will require a series to be kept in its entirety for
administrative (work-related) purposes. After that it should be put under the responsibility of the
Central Archive Unit, who should select the material that is of
historical interest and use standard archiving selection and sampling
techniques to transform the collections from Administrative Archives
to Historical Archives.
The implementation of the new Archive Policy will
prevent Departments offloading large quantities of unsorted documents
to the Central Archives, through the elaboration of detailed
Departmental Archiving Agreements, which will specify how each series
of documents is treated and at what stage material ceases to be of
When documents in the Administrative archives are
no longer required by the Department concerned, those documents judged
to be of historical value are transferred to the Historical Archives.
The “Historical Archives” collection
comprises some 3000 metres of files of internal documents. Classified
by subject until 1979, they are now filed by provenance, in keeping
with archiving standards.
There are substantial collections for every
Directorate as well as the Private Office, Committee of Ministers,
Parliamentary Assembly and Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.
The European Court of Human Rights maintains its own archive.
Description and metadata
The main finding tool for the historical archives
is a card catalogue. For
Intermediate and long-term archives, inventories are prepared by the
depositing service and stored in the Archives.
For documents, the period 1949-1991 is catalogued
using a card catalogue known as the “Indexage catalogue”, located
next to the main library. Post 1991 records are entered into the
Unicorn CERESII database.
Archives staff have entered historical records
and inventories of intermediate archives into a small Microsoft Access
database, accessible in the Central Archives only.
While the database is very useful to Archives staff, it does
not follow standards of Archive description.
To improve access to archived materials it would
be necessary to make the information stored in the card catalogues
The Central Archives stock is stored in several
basement areas of the Palais. The
major part of the stock in on level –2 in storage areas next to the
Distribution. There are
separate lock-up areas for Treaties and Committee of Ministers archive
materials. Most materials
are held in Leitz files and vertical files.
Although space is limited, with careful planning
and the positive co-operation of the document distribution Department,
it should be adequate for the medium-term.
The recognised standards regarding storage
conditions for long-term archive collections, in terms of temperature
and humidity, have never been applied at the Council of Europe, with
the result that the paper is degrading at a faster rate than it would
do otherwise. This is a
matter of concern.
Historical documents are also being damaged by
frequent copying. This
could be avoided by creating digital copies of the most threatened
texts, which would also minimise future costs of copying the texts and
sending them out to external users.
Files from Departments are deposited on a daily
basis in the Central Archives. This
is done using the “deposit form” that is available on the Infodoc
When the retention period for intermediate
archives is expired, confirmation is obtained from the author service
before material is destroyed.
Access to Archive materials is given on
authorisation from the Department concerned, unless the documents in
question have already been declassified.
A 30-year access rule is currently applied to
historical and administrative archives. For official documents, the
rules on access adopted by the relevant body are applied.
The Archivist and a B4 member of staff left at
the end of last year. Both
posts have been reallocated to other services.
The human resources in the Archives are now at their lowest
level since the Archives were created in 1949.
There are two B2 staff with a B3 post about to be advertised.
The Archives are currently overseen by a B5.
Providing electronic access to the Archives
To date no historical archives are available in
There are several repositories of electronic
files at the Council of Europe which are open to the public: the
websites of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly,
and the databases of the Court of Human Rights, the Treaty Office and
the Venice Commission. Each
has its own web interface, which is ideal for a specialised user, but
confusing for somebody who wishes to search across all the Council of
To make archives accessible in electronic form
involves development in several areas:
Input facilities (scanning)
Archive repository facilities
Document management systems
Retrieval facilities and user interfaces.
Input facilities (Scanning)
Few Council of Europe documents of the pre-1990
period are yet available in electronic format.
There is no centralised scanning facility. The scanner of the Division of Documentary Information was
provided by the Information Technology Department for the purposes of
the website and is suitable for scanning small amounts of material
A scanning project, based on 38,000 adopted
texts, session documents and debates of the Parliamentary Assembly,
was drawn up for tender in 1999 and submitted to the Management
Advisory Board (MAB) for decision.
It was planned as a joint project between the SEDDOC and the
Secretariat of the Parliamentary Assembly.
The project was abandoned because of the cost.
However, the exercise included a detailed technical
specification for the scanning of Council of Europe documents, which
will be valuable for any future scanning project.
Scanning historical documents
The Central Archives is the repository of most of
the historical material of the Council of Europe.
Given that many archive services are now
providing online access to scanned copies of their historical
documents, there is growing demand for the Council of Europe archives
to do the same.
An alternative to a large-scale scanning project
would be to run a small pilot project bearing in mind the existing
digital resources in other services.
This would have the advantages of giving some modest and
relatively quick results, while enabling a proper assessment to be
made of the conditions and issues that need to be addressed.
Archive repository facilities
There are plans are to begin a repository of
referenced documents, by storing the copies that are send to print via
the PRIDE system. This
would form the basis of an electronic archive, to be managed by the
An archiving module, known as “Hyperion”, has
been acquired by Infodoc for its Unicorn CERESII database.
This will enable archive materials to be added to the database
and made searchable via the Internet using the same interface. Any digital object can be added to the repository.
Metadata will be input in USMARC format using the ISAD(G)
To view an object in the system the end user will
need the appropriate software for the format concerned.
For Council of Europe text files the PDF (for
public users) and Word (for internal users) formats have been selected
to enable easy access and reuse of the documents.
Document management systems
Proper archive management practices must begin in
the Departments. A sound
document management procedure within the Organisation is a
prerequisite for electronic access to the archives.
The Central Archives cannot cope with large inputs of material
from Departments which are poorly organised, classified and labelled.
Improving document management within the
Organisation was identified as a priority by the Computer
Correspondents Working Group (GTCI) in their report “Needs
identified and improvements suggested by the Computer
Correspondents” (November 2000).
Discussions within the forum of Computer
Correspondents on this subject will continue during 2001.
It is hoped that this will lead to a common definition of
document management needs which can then form the basis for finding a
suitable software solution.
Retrieval facilities and user interfaces
It is desirable to develop an organisation-wide
retrieval interface to enable common searching of all existing
resources. This is currently being studied within the “I-Hub”
project managed by the Department of Information Technology in
co-operation with other Council of Europe Departments.
The most comprehensive listings of Council of
Europe documents available in the Council of Europe can be accessed on
the Internet via the Unicorn CERESII webcat search facility:
This currently gives full bibliographic records
of 60,000 Council of Europe public documents. Comprehensive coverage
is from 1991. A link is
made to the full-text, where this is available in electronic format.
In total it contains bibliographic references for 123,588
Council of Europe documents and publications.
The Central Archives have recently opened a page
on the Infodoc website: http://info.coe.int/archives
This will be used to add finding-aids, collection
descriptions, explanations of procedures and reader guides.
The Archive webpages are planned as a public
resource, so that developments in opening and automating the archives
and introducing more transparency can be immediately communicated to
A new policy for the Archives
An Archive Policy Working Group was set up within
the Secretariat in March 2001, with representatives from each
Directorate and from the Secretariat of the four main bodies of the
A draft Archive Policy was prepared by the
Secretariat with the assistance of the Director of the Archives du
Bas-Rhin, M. Van Reeth. The
Working Group met three times to finalise the document (see Appendix).
The policy describes the organisational structure
that will form the basis of future management of the archives, which
will focus on:
a network of archive correspondents
the principle of Departmental archive agreements
It is planned to ask each Department (i.e. Organ,
Directorate and Partial Agreement) to nominate an Archive
correspondent, to be the principal point of liaison between the
Department and the central Archives.
This is not a new idea. The practice of having an
Archive or Records Officer in each Department is common in national
administrations. It was
introduced to the Council of Europe in the 1970s (under the label
“Liaison Officer”), but later fell into disuse, leading to the
coordination problems that are apparent today.
The Council of Europe already has a well-established network of
Computer Correspondents, which facilitates the dialogue and transfer
of competence between the Department of Information Technology and the
other Departments. The
experience gained from setting up and organising this network will
facilitate the reintroduction of Archive correspondents.
A training program for Archive correspondents
will be organised by the Human Resources Division in co-operation with
Infodoc, building on the experience gained from previous co-operation
in archiving and document management training.
Departmental archive agreements
The range of activities of the Council of Europe
make it impossible to agree a single system of archiving that will
meet all needs. There is
little in common, for example, between the documentation produced and
managed in the Council of Europe Development Bank, the Parliamentary
Assembly and the Human Resources Division.
It is standard practice in central archive
services to manage departmental relations on the basis of archiving
agreements, which include “disposal” (or “retention”)
schedules. A disposal schedule, drawn up by the Central Archives in
consultation with and validated by the Department concerned, should
list the different types of documents used by a Department and specify
for each type of document for how long the documents be kept and at
what stage they should be transferred to the Central Archives.
In accordance wish the wishes of the Ministers'
Deputies, the Secretariat is undertaking a thorough appraisal of its
A key feature of this is the new Archive Policy
which will provide a framework for developing and harmonising
archiving practice throughout the Organisation.
This should, in the medium-term, result in more
efficient procedures, more transparency and improvements in the
visibility of the Organisation. It
is argued that these benefits will be gained at no extra cost to the
Organisation, since the time and effort spent on the appraisal will be
more than made up by the increase in efficiency.
Council of Europe Archive Policy
The Mission of the Archives
The Mission of the Council of Europe Archives,
hereafter referred to as “the Archives”,
is to constitute the collective memory of the Council of Europe.
To fulfil this mission, the Archives,shall:
develop and preserve a comprehensive collection of materials
produced by and addressed to the Organisation
make these materials accessible to authorised persons.
Preservation and access
The Archives shall:
ensure the long-term preservation of archival materials in all
their formats (paper, electronic, photo, sound and video recordings)
ensure standardised archival description of materials according
to international standards
promote access to the collections through:
provision of reading facilities
scanning of selected materials
development of databases to facilitate searching and retrieval
ensure that electronic materials are stored in an accessible
format and reformatted if necessary, in co-(operation with the
Department of Information Technology.
The Archives shall preserve on a permanent basis:
materials produced by the Organisation
administrative documents of historical value to the
Electronic versions of materials produced by the
Organisation will be retained and made available according to the same
principles and procedures as non-electronic versions.
Documents of administrative value to the
Organisation will be retained according to the periods set out in the
departmental disposal schedules, which shall be made accessible to the
The Archives shall promote public awareness of
the historical importance of its archive collections, using a
broad-based multimedia approach.
Management of the Archives
The Archives shall be managed on the basis of
co-operation between the Central Archives Unit and Departments,
through a network of Archive Correspondents.
The modalities of this co-operation are as follows:
Role of the Central Archives Unit
The Role of the Central Archives Unit shall be
maintain the collection policy of the Organisation
ensure the integration of print and electronic collections
provide central storage facilities for records which require
provide facilities to access the archives
define archival procedures
manage document transfers from Departments to the Central
coordinate and promote the harmonisation of archiving practice
within the Organisation, according to international archiving
advise Departments on good archiving practice
provide expertise and training
draw up Archiving Agreements with each Department
provide archiving services for Departments depending on their
needs and defined in departmental Archiving Agreements.
Coordination with Departments
Departmental archives shall be complementary to
the Central Archives.
The Central Archives Unit will draw up an
Archiving Agreement with each Department to:
specify the collection policy of the Department
include a Disposal schedule
specify the depository authority for the Department's
set out the conditions of access for the departmental archives.
The Agreement will be regularly updated.
Each Department will appoint an Archive
Correspondent with the following responsibilities:
participation in the drafting and maintenance of the
Department's Archiving Agreement
coordination of the management of archive materials within the
Department according to the terms set out in the Department's
liaison with the Central Archives Unit
participating in Archive Correspondents meetings.