Our Values

Code of Ethics

Enacted 10/7/2019

NAGARA's Core Values and Mission

NAGARA is committed to:
ensuring authenticity, integrity, and trustworthiness in the creation, distribution, use and storage of records regardless of format;
encouraging appropriate preservation, protection, and retention and disposition of both archival and non-permanent records;
promoting best practices and principles for accountability and transparency in public recordkeeping;
advocating for, among other issues, sustainability and accessibility in both archival and non-permanent public records programs; and
fostering education for professionals and maturity for programs in these practices and principles.

To support its purpose and mission, the National Association of Government Archivists and Records Administrators (henceforth NAGARA) approves this Code of Ethics (henceforth “Code”) as a set of expectations for professional conduct and a guide for its members on how to act ethically in the pursuit of ideals and principles held dear to the organization and the professions it serves. All recordkeeping professionals, and especially government records professionals, are faced with ethical challenges that can require careful consideration and careful decision-making. Those entrusted as custodians of public records must be held to a high standard, as the public trust is derived from trust in the essential evidence of government action. NAGARA, as the professional association for government recordkeepers,  is at all times committed to ethical practices in recordkeeping.

Furthermore, in any democratically-elected government, public officials are accountable to the citizenry they serve, and it is essential that public officials adhere to ethical standards in the creation, receipt, distribution, use, storage, and disposition of public records. Recordkeepers are, too, accountable to the public and must safeguard public records from unlawful and unethical alteration, destruction, or loss.

Code of Ethics - Background

Public records are the foundation of public trust. Records, regardless of format, are the mechanism  by which the actions and decisions of public officials and organizations are recorded. The public is only able to observe and audit those actions, and thereby hold accountable said officials and organization, through access to and inspection of public records. Trusting that public records are authentic, reliable, complete, unaltered, and freely accessible to the fullest extent allowable by law is the solemn responsibility of records administrators, archivists, and records professionals nationwide.  Without trust, records cannot be relied upon to be faithful carriers of information, and the veracity of information within can be questions. Undoubtedly, in government trust in recordkeeping processes is utmost as public records in most jurisdictions have a presumption of validity; inherent in that presumption is the implied responsibility that records professionals ensure that said records can fulfill that role in legal or administrative capacities, not to mention historical and other processes.

Authenticity of Records
Trust in records is based on being able to trust that records are authentic and unaltered. While it is beyond the scope of the responsibility of archivists and records administrators to guarantee the creation of good records, their responsibility is, whenever possible, to maintain provenance (the documented, unbroken chain-of-custody from records creator to final disposition)

Trust in records can only be ensured if the processes for management and decision-making are concisely and plainly articulated; a hidden or obscure process is difficult or impossible to audit. A records professional should be dedicated to ensuring that all practices are as transparent as possible. 

Conflicts of Interest
In order to preserve trust in public records, trust in the officials who are charged with handling, preserving, and protecting those records must also be preserved. The motives of records custodians and others involved in the records lifecycle cannot be called into question without damaging the integrity of the records themselves. Records professionals should faithfully execute the mission of their organization to the best of their ability, and this execution should never be influenced by outside political, financial, or personal motives. 

Government agencies are always subject to political influences, but records professionals should be isolated from the vagaries of the political process to the greatest extent possible. A professional, similarly, should never take action based on political motivations but rather the clearly articulated policies and procedures in place at their institution, best practices and standards developed by the professional community, or thoroughly researched and well-documented scientific process. 

The public must be able to trust that the custodians of public records act according to best practices, standards, and laws in order to trust the records they control. Since records professionals often operate “between the lines” and can be difficult to audit, their motives and actions must be beyond reproach.

Bias is present in the actions and decisions of government officials, including records professionals. NAGARA members have a responsibility to eliminate all manners of bias, wherever possible, in collecting, access, preservation, and other aspects of records management.

Institutional Bias
Institutions are biased due to a myriad of factors: authority, mandate, budget, staff, leadership, and more. Government institutions are often subject to great inertia, or conversely, a desire to change rapidly for political expediency. Ultimately, archivists and records managers should identify what institutional biases exist and work to counteract them whenever possible.

Personal Bias
Records capture the actions of government agencies and officials in their capacity representing said organizations. All records flow from the authority invested in these organizations and their officers; thus it is incumbent upon the officer to eliminate personal bias from their conduct as a professional and public official. The public must be able to trust the institution; the authoritativeness of an institution’s records would be severely undermined if its officers had ulterior motives.

Resource Bias
Recordkeeping at all levels is not a well-funded area of government concern. A significant portion of archival and records management funding comes from granting bodies, some of which are private non-profits, some are governmental organizations, and others are for-profit institutions. Records professionals are advised to not allow granting bodies (or other outside entities) undue influence due to resourcing factors such as availability of grant funds, incentives, or sponsorships. Records professionals should weigh costs as but one factor in the determination of the most effective way to manage records.

Access Bias
Records professionals should strive to eliminate barriers to access that originate from differences socio-economic standing, race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, culture, physical location, digital access mechanisms, and more. Thoughtful consideration of demographics and audiences is essential to understanding information-seeking needs, as well as being able to guarantee equal access to public information. Significant barriers to accessing information present for one segment of the population 

A mechanism that can be used to reduce or eliminate bias is to foster a diversity of experience, opinion, expertise, background, and thought among staff, partners, collaborators, and others involved in the records lifecycle. Diversity in records and archives is essential to ensure that all relevant actions and decisions are captured commensurate with their impact on all corners of society; policies and actions of government can seem minor in consequence to certain demographics but are quite impactful to others. As archivists and records managers develop recordkeeping policies and preservation strategies that seek to capture all essential actions of government, they must be thoughtful about the methods used to determine what is “essential”.

Code of Ethics - Pillars

NAGARA identifies the following principles as the pillars of ethical behavior for archivists, records managers, and other information professionals:

Members of NAGARA are elected or appointed employees of state, local, or national government, and are therefore responsible to the people. It is the duty of public servants to answer and be accountable to the people, and records administrators and archivists have a vital role in safeguarding the people’s ability to hold government agents accountable, and thus must be beyond reproach.

Members of NAGARA are expected to be professional in all matters, as either representatives or agents of their public institution, NAGARA, or the public. Members are expected to be courteous and polite, should prioritize the safety, well-being, and integrity of both the records under their care and their patrons, colleagues, records creators, and members of the public.

Members of NAGARA are expected to continually improve their knowledge and expertise in all matters related to records management, preservation, and access. Public records are essential to the functioning of the American republic and its custodians should strive to achieve and perform at the highest level possible.

Members of NAGARA are expected to eliminate bias and act neutrally as it pertains to the management of records. Public records and the administration thereof should never be subject to personal bias, political affiliation, or influence from any source. Records professionals should follow, whenever possible, industry standards and best practices for recordkeeping, information governance, access, protection, preservation, ethics, and more.

Code of Conduct

Enacted 11/11/2019

In keeping with its Core Values and Mission Statement, NAGARA seeks to inform members of the expectations placed upon them, in both membership and daily professional activities.

Conduct of Government Archives and Records Administrators
Every employee in the public sector has their conduct regulated by the jurisdiction in which they serve.  NAGARA encourages its members to carefully follow that code of conduct to promote the positive image of public employees in general and government archives and records administrators in particular. Public employees safeguard the public trust and must behave ethically and professionally in order to faithfully do so.

While careful to recognize freedom of speech, NAGARA cautions its members to use caution in posts made on social media so that statements and visual materials published will not be contrary to any law, regulation, or code of conduct or code of ethics members may be obliged to follow.

Conduct of NAGARA Members
Any person identified as a member, officer, official or employee of NAGARA will conduct themselves in such a way as to demonstrate the ethical integrity demanded by NAGARA of those affiliated with the organization. Further, members certified by partner organizations (Academy of Certified Archivists, Institute of Certified Records Managers, and International Institute of Municipal Clerks) are encouraged to follow the codes and standards of ethics and conduct of those bodies.

NAGARA members are expected to behave professionally in their conduct as information professionals and officers of government, in all forums, including but not limited to:

  • Email (including mailing lists and other NAGARA-controlled listservs) and other electronic communications
  • Message boards and other online forums
  • Conferences, regional meetings, webinars or any other NAGARA-sponsored event
  • NAGARA Committees, Task Forces, Working Groups, and other collaborative endeavors
  • Any other formal setting which involves interaction between NAGARA members and affiliated organizations

Professional behavior means:

  • Members should communicate in a clear, concise, and courteous manner at all times.
  •  Harassment, intimidation, bullying, and other personal attacks of any kind are not tolerated in any circumstance.  Behavior that is not acceptable includes, but is not limited to: threatening or derogatory verbal comments, violence of any kind, inappropriate or unwanted physical contact, disruption of events or other professional work, criminal activity
  • Discrimination and bigotry are not acceptable. NAGARA welcomes all people, regardless of background or personal characteristics, and places a high premium on diversity in its work.

Conduct of NAGARA Guests, Meeting or Online Participants

  • The same professional behavior is expected of anyone who participates in a NAGARA Meeting or online event or communication group.

A method of evaluating actions or incidents will be determined by the NAGARA Board of Directors and then be published on the NAGARA website.

If any of the above is observed, incidents can be reported (including anonymously) to the registration desk at the annual meeting, the instructor or leader of any other NAGARA meeting or event, to the administrator of any NAGARA online listserv or other communication group, or to the NAGARA office (info@nagara.org) after a conference, event meeting or online incident; whereupon they will be investigated, and if appropriate, action will be taken. Actions or incidents which transgress NAGARA ethical standards, including but not limited those points outlined above, or which result in the felony criminal conviction of anyone affiliated with the organization, may lead to the expulsion of said individual from NAGARA, with notice of the expulsion forwarded to the individual’s employing agency.

For guests and other participants of NAGARA meetings, online events or communication groups, actions or incidents which transgress NAGARA ethical standards may upon investigation lead to the revoking of any privileges granted to the individual in question, forfeiture of any fees for services, and the notification of the individual’s employing agency of the transgression.