Posted 27 марта, 06:34

Published 27 марта, 06:34

Modified 27 марта, 11:26

Updated 27 марта, 11:26

Archive as a grocery store: who benefits from paid access to historical documents

Archive as a grocery store: who benefits from paid access to historical documents

27 марта 2023, 06:34
As you know, on March 16, 2023, Deputy Yana Lantratova submitted to the State Duma an amendment to the bill on paid access to archival documents in online access. It caused a wide resonance among local historians, genealogists and historians.

Tatiana Maksimova, head of the Moscow branch of the NGO "Archival Watch" , author of 7 archival reference books, finalist of the competitions "Volunteer of Russia" and "Mosvolonter", creator of the community about archival volunteering and historical projects "Geneagolics Club".

The draft Law "On Amendments to Article 24 of the Federal Law "On Archival Affairs in the Russian Federation" (regarding the creation and operation of the State Information System for the Remote Use of Archival Documents and Reference and Search Tools for Them)" it was supposed to be adopted in February 2023. At the same time, the opinion of the public about the need to maintain free access to at least part of the documents was ignored by Rosarchiv. But unexpectedly, Deputy Yana Lantratova drew attention to the problem and submitted an amendment that justified the need to finalize the bill and announced a list of documents that free access to which is necessary for the implementation of the tasks of the National Cultural Policy, youth policy and other laws adopted in the last year.

The amendment also had opponents. The opinions of the Rosarchiv, the Cabinet of Ministers and some historians who advocate paid access to all documents are reflected in two articles - "Finding roots: will the pedigrees of Russians be made publicly available" and "The State Duma proposed to open access to pedigrees for Russians".

Discussions have begun in genealogical and archival communities, in which objections are severely criticized.

A brief overview of the researchers' opinions on the arguments given by the advocates of paid access:

1. Opinion against the amendment: "It is fashionable now to find out your pedigree, but tell me, how many residents of Russia will be able to read the cursive of the XVII century? There are companies that are actively working on the development of the recognition system, but no system gives a hundred percent guarantee."

However, more than 99% of the documents that should receive guaranteed free access do not belong to the cursive of the 17th century. There is no reason to make paid access to metric books of the 19th-20th century due to the fact that most researchers do not read cursive. There is a paradox here – people cannot learn to read cursive because of the unavailability of sources for training and training, but they cannot be given access to these sources because they do not know how.

Now in Russia, about 2 million people make up their pedigree, and there are no free cursive reading courses. But it is the discovery of these sources that would lead to an increase in interest in history and culture and to the fact that hundreds of thousands of people would learn to read cursive. This would lead to a giant leap in reviving interest in Russian culture, there are practically no other ways to achieve the same results with comparative investments. The same applies to cursive recognition systems – they stall precisely because of the unavailability of sources. The availability of sources will allow technology companies in this area to make a huge leap in a short time and transfer historical science to a completely different level of informatization.

2. Opinion against the amendment: "New amendments will require large investments from the state and colossal efforts from experts."

The need for state investment in the archival industry of the NGO "Archival Watch" has been talking for several years. The problem of underfunding of the archival industry is reflected in the level of digitization of Russian archives. And paid access will not solve this problem. We need a broad discussion of the economic aspects of digitizing archives, and, perhaps, the allocation of a part of the "patriotic" budget for these purposes. An example is the news from February 2023 "The Russian Government has allocated budget funds in the amount of almost 38 billion rubles to the movement of children and youth "Movement of the First" for projects in the field of patriotic education." In order to provide free access to all documents from the list, it is enough to send only 1% of the funds for patriotic education of young people to archival projects. And I will supplement this point with one comment from the list below: "To say that having free access to archival data will leave archives without money is like saying that having libraries will leave bookstores without money." Moreover, it is the legislatively introduced paid access that can make archives completely dependent on user receipts, and deprive other sources of funding.

3. Opinion against the amendment: "The publication in the public domain of data concerning the secrecy of church confession can seriously harm the reputation of childbirth."

Confessional statements, which are proposed to be included in the list, contain only information about the composition of the parish, they do not contain information related to the secret of confession. If historians have objections about the composition of the proposed list, it is advisable to hold additional public discussions and discuss the feasibility and validity of making each type of document a free list.

4. Opinion against the amendment: "Genealogical societies are trying to benefit from this."

Genealogical societies currently do not have any grant support and hold all their events – exhibitions, conferences, training, publishing books at their own expense. Paid or free access will not affect the welfare of genealogical societies.

5. Opinion against the amendment: "Experts are concerned about a possible surge in interest in inheriting real estate and land plots (owned by these families before 1917)."

Paid or free access cannot affect the interest. Russian legislation does not provide for legal mechanisms by which one can claim the property of one's ancestors. Discussion of the possibility of such inheritance is not underway and is not planned.

6. Opinion against the amendment: "It is more pragmatic to talk only about digitization of data for the XX century. Why not publish the acts of the ChGC in the public domain."

The acts of the Extraordinary State Commission for the Establishment and Investigation of the Atrocities of the Nazi invaders and Their Accomplices are published on the website. One of the goals of the amendments is to guarantee free access to this and other WWII sites to future generations. Otherwise, in the future it is possible to manipulate history by setting fees for access to WWII sites, i.e. economic barriers. To avoid such manipulation in the future, free access to these documents should be provided today.

7. Arguing about the nature of the fact that historians and archivists object to free access, many users broadcast the idea that the reason is the "gray market" that has arisen in the market of archival scans - it is advantageous for archives to slow down digitization and create barriers to scans, because in some archives a system of selling scans "from under the counter" has been established. Through genealogical forums and chats. A scan of a document ordered in the evening can be sent in the morning, while to view the document yourself you need to wait in line for days, weeks, or even months. It is broad digitization and free access that will clear the "gray market" and allow the formation of new all-Russian standards in the industry. And now the difference between the best and the worst regions is like between a skyscraper in Moscow City and a cave of the Stone Age. Residents of all regions deserve to have the same access to documents. This is necessary not only for the study of ancestry, science, but also local history and, as a result, the development of domestic tourism.

8. And I want to make one more comment in a separate paragraph. "It is a shame and a shame to understand that a Russian can make up his pedigree for free, without leaving home, if only his roots go from modern Russia, for example, to the Baltic States." A lot of Russians who make up their pedigrees have roots not only in Russia, and can compare the availability of archives.

The opinions of social media users about the amendment to the bill can be viewed here.