ARCHIVED: Letter Regarding Access to Archival Materials in the Context of Concern about Terrorism

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January 14, 2002

Dr. Lewis Bellardo
Deputy Archivist of the United States
National Archives and Records Administration
National Archives at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

Dear Dr. Bellardo:

We are writing on behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, and the Association of Research Libraries to follow up on our discussion with you on January 2, 2002 regarding NARA's recent announcement on Access to Archival Materials in the Context of Concern about Terrorism. We raised several questions and concerns about this guidance to NARA's components regarding screening of documents for critical infrastructure and other sensitive data in the post- September 11th environment. We appreciate your willingness to discuss the guidance with us and are pleased to have confirmation from you that the screening is of documents, not requests or requestors, and that only one document has been withdrawn by NARA to date.

AALL is a nonprofit educational organization with over 5,000 members dedicated to providing leadership and advocacy in the field of legal information and information policy. ALA is a nonprofit educational organization of over 63,000 librarians, library trustees, and other friends of libraries dedicated to improving library services and promoting the public interest in a free and open information society. ARL is an Association of 123 research libraries in North America. ARL programs and services promote equitable access to and effective use of recorded knowledge in support of teaching, research, scholarship, and community service.

As you explained during the conversation, given the scope of NARA's holdings, it is nearly impossible to tell if a document that has been "publicly available" has been looked at by any member of the public. Thus it seems that it will be very difficult for NARA to ascertain which documents can appropriately -- or usefully -- be withdrawn from public availability. That is, in part, because it is not feasible for NARA to determine what documents may have been used by researchers or others in publications or other contexts.

For this reason, as well as for accountability purposes, we recommend that NARA institute a policy of maintaining a register of all documents withdrawn or withheld as a result of concerns following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. We are mindful of NARA's concern not to provide a roadmap for would-be terrorists to the kinds of documents it may hold and realize that the register would not be generally available to the public.

However, we believe that such a list could at some point be made available upon specific request, so that researchers could assist NARA in identifying those documents that are already publicly available elsewhere. In such situations, it would not seem appropriate to continue to withhold such materials. We also believe that such a registry would allow NARA to be assured that its components were acting responsibly and consistent with NARA's long-standing policy of maximum feasible access to government records for the public.

Thank you, again, for your willingness to discuss the concerns raised by NARA's new guidance. We look forward to your response to our recommendation.


Mary Alice Baish
Associate Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries

Patrice McDermott
Assistant Director
American Library Association
Washington Office

Prue Adler
Associate Executive Director
Association of Research Libraries