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The National Memory as a Common Pool Resource? The Emergence of an Institutional Regime for the Sustainable Management of the Documentary Heritage

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Knoepfel, Peter; Olgiati, Mirta
Conference: Building the European Commons: From Open Fields to Open Source, European Regional Meeting of the International Association for the Study of Common Property (IASCP)
Location: Brescia, Italy
Conf. Date: March 23-25
Date: 2006
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10535/1669
Sector: Information & Knowledge
New Commons
Region: Europe
Subject(s): IASC
culture
common pool resources
traditional knowledge
history
libraries
preservation
Abstract: "According to a common definition, national memories consist of the sum of all information included in the documentary heritage of a nation. The documentary heritage is composed of all public interest documents produced by a country, in this case Switzerland: they can be written, audio, visual or multi-media documents; administrative, legal, historical or cultural documents; documents that are historical or current in nature. It is made up of all the documents that archival institutions manage with view of preserving for the future (archives, libraries, sound archives, films archives, etc.). "In Switzerland, the conservation of the documentary heritage is managed by a multitude of institutions with different legal forms (public administrations, associations, foundations of private law, etc.) and organized according to the various types of support employed. "The research which we undertook until now enable us to identify two common pool resources whose regulation is essential for the survival of the Swiss national memory: on one hand the documentary heritage storage capacity, on the other hand the selection capacity necessary to decide which documents should be preserved for the future. "Following the exponential increase of the documentary production and the rapid evolution of the various supports in the last decades, the storage capacity of this heritage is yet rare and becomes an increasingly threatened resource. Indeed, the goods and services which it produces, for example the physical or numerical documents storage, their conservation, organisation and classification, etc., are becoming rare which leads to the risk of important rivalries putting in question the good functioning of the resource itself. This in turn may threaten the survival of national memories. This first resource is interacting with another fundamental resource for the constitution of such memories which consists of the capacity to reasonably select those documents which should enter into national documentary heritages in a transparent and socially controlled way. This capacity again must be considered as a manmade collective resource the main services of which are reliable judgments about archivist value (from historical, cultural, legal, statistical, etc. points of view) which will affect, amongst others, the interests of future users. The absence of such judgments due to a lacking production capacity of this second collective resource will again create uncontrolled rivalries amongst future users being more or less affected by uncontrolled selection procedures (leading to the availability of too many or too few documents) according to the fields of allocation of these judgments. "The national memory is primarily based on the sustainable use of these two resources; today it's essential to attend actively to them if we want to avoid their later rarefaction. To live up to the challenges facing our society, the conservation of the documentary heritage must follow clear selection and storage rules, for it is now impossible to preserve the totality of the documentary production of a nation. In other words, national memories must be managed in a more sustainable way. "Nevertheless, research regarding the operational mechanisms of these particular resources is recent; the knowledge on this subject matter remains limited and needs to be expanded. The concept of institutional regimes, applied by our team up to now to traditional resources like soils, air or forests, but also to the immaterial resource landscape, makes it possible to approach the study of such man-made resources. This concept takes into account both the basic property rights order (regulatory system) and the relevant public policies regulating the two basic resources for national memories, the services they produce, the necessary conditions for the maintenance of their reproduction by means of reasonably regulating use and access rights of interested use actors and their controlled attribution to rival actor groups. The establishment of such regimes (actually under way in Switzerland) should guarantee a socially, ecologically and economically sustainable development of these tremendously important man-made resources for the safeguarding of national memories."

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