Alexander Roberts

Alexander Roberts

Last updated on 2 April 2019

Alexander Roberts is Digital Humanities Manager/Research Data Manager at Swansea University and attended iPRES2018 with support from the DPC's Leadership Programme which is generously funded by DPC Supporters

Denmark and the Danish Archives Act 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2007

With preparations for iPres2019 in Amsterdam firmly underway and the deadline for submitting contributions having just passed, I have begun reflecting on some of the themes that resonated with me from last year’s amazing meeting at iPres2018. This was my first taste of the iPres experience, and it didn’t disappoint! My particular interests lie in computer science, IT areas including a focus on the performing arts (I’m a keen musician and composer). I found all of these areas well represented with keen and informed speakers elucidating on the finer points of applying arcane techniques and wizardly approaches to solving all sorts of digital preservation conundrums.

In particular, I was taken with 3 particular areas of practice:

  1. Preserving organizational email at scale
  2. Preserving digital artworks
  3. Variation in national digital preservation policies

I plan on penning a blog post or two on each of the areas above starting with this one which describes my research into variation in national digital preservation policies.


On day 1 of iPres2018, I attended the session entitled, ‘The Network Electronic Archiving Concept for Organizing Digital Preservation for Small Archives’ presented by Kathrine Hougaard Edsen Johansen and Kim Schou Nørøxe. During this session, I was intrigued to hear that the Danish parliament has adopted archival legislation (following a model that originated in Switzerland) that goes beyond that of most other nations. It turns out that not only does Denmark have a large public sector, but its archival legislation is also one of the most extensive of its kind. The legislation specifies in detail what, how and when to archive and it gives far-reaching powers to archives. This is particularly true for born-digital material. [] The legislation in question is called the Danish Archives Act and has existed in one form or another since 1992 with further revisions in 1996, 2000 and 2007. It applies to all activities carried out by public administrative bodies, and the judiciary.

The Danish Minister for Culture can in certain circumstances determine that the rules of the Act also apply to companies, institutions and associations, if they are mainly financed through public funds, or they have assumed powers or responsibilities to make decisions on behalf of the state or a municipality. Companies that are owned by the state, or in which the state has ownership may also be included in the scope of the act.

The Act applies to the activities of the Public Archives with regard to private records. These public archives consist of:

  • State Archives which include the 7 archive holding bodies including the Danish National Archives, and the Danish Data Archives (Odense). The Danish Data Archives is the newest of the seven archive holding bodies and keep historical and social science studies such as registers, databases and other electronically stored information []
  • Regional Archives
  • Local Archives

The objectives of the Danish State archives are also enshrined in the Act and include:

  • to ensure the preservation of records of historical value or which serve as documentation of matters of essential administrative or legal importance to the citizens and authorities;
  • to ensure the possibility of disposal of public records of no preservation value in collaboration with the authorities covered by this Act;
  • to make records available to citizens and authorities, for example for research purposes,
  • to guide citizens and authorities on how to use records;
  • to carry out research and disseminate the knowledge of research results

The State Archives is also expected to assist authorities in tasks of a technical nature.

Part 3 of the Act deals with the preservation and disposal of public records. Records held by authorities (government, law enforcement, health services, etc.) are expected to be kept in a ‘satisfactory manner’, and that any records stored on electronic media be kept in a manner that allows them to be transferred to public archives, after which the responsibility for preservation passes to the receiver of the material. Those state authorities that have not switched to electronic filing systems within a date specified by the Minister of Culture will be liable for any costs associated with preservation of their records in the Start Archives which remain paper-based.

Any records originating from former or existing state authorities are required to transfer the records to the state archives. This includes records held by private individuals, enterprises and institutions.

The Act also concerns itself with assessing and reporting on the accessibly of public archives and authorities.

Concerning records of essential importance to research or culture in general held by private individuals, enterprises and institutions the Act states that before such records are removed from the country the State Archives is to be granted access to copy the records. []

According to Annette Mørch Jensen and Malene Bjørnskov Schmidt, from Aalborg University Denmark, approximately 80% of electronic records are disposed of (deleted) before transfer to the state archives, but only after the state archives has issued an appraisal decision for the system in question. EDH and ESDH systems are usually preserved as a whole due to the effort and cost required to achieve part-disposal outweighing any gains otherwise. []

Further to the requirements on State Archives within the Act, an Executive Order from the Minister of Culture adds further provisions to the actives of the National Archives in Denmark. In this order the National Archivist, who is appointed directly by the Minister of Culture, has the power to issue further rules and regulations concerning the following elements of digital preservation:

  • The accumulation of archives by state authorities, including the instantiation, specification and approval and operation of filing systems
  • ensuring the interoperability of file systems
  • technical requirements for archival media
  • the manner of transfer of electronic records to the State Archives

Furthermore, the Executive Order specifies that public authorities provide information to allow for inspection and archival purposes (an audit…), and failure to do so may result in an instruction from the National Archives to take necessary measures. []

What does all of this equate to in terms of ‘business as usual’ activities undertaken by Danish public archives and public sector organizations that may differ from those in countries which have less far-reaching archival legislation?

Kathrine Hougaard Edsen Johansen and Mads Neuhard of the Copenhagen City Archives provide an excellent summary in their excellent short paper on how small archives can perform OAIS compliant archiving []. In their paper, they document the appraisal and preservation protocols employed by public archives as they appraise born-digital material from public sector organizations.

‘Sometimes [an] appraisal is done as early as when an IT-system is commissioned. For materials that should be archived, producers are obliged by law to submit data to a public archive in a format decided by the archive, with a deadline set by the archive. All this is done at the cost of the producers. With regular submissions approximately every five years and a national archival strategy based on normalization before submission, it is evident that the archival responsibility enforced by law on producers is significant in terms of both extent and resources needed.’

Wow! even with my limited knowledge of public sector archival workflows and appraisals undertaken at local record offices in the UK (full disclosure, I’m not an archivist…) the situation described by Johansen and Neuhard above sounds like a world away from the situation in the UK. As a participant in the Archives and Records Council Wales (ARCW) Digital Preservation Working Group [], led by the National Library of Wales, I have firsthand knowledge of the challenges facing Welsh local authorities and public record offices around their electronic records management activities including the management, appraisal and preservation of born-digital material. I would suggest that it is certainly not the norm for local records offices and archives to be involved in the commissioning of a local authority’s IT system, and they are frequently left out of the conversation until retention of records presents itself as a challenge requiring archival expertise. It would be interesting to conduct a comparative analysis of state funding to, and costs incurred by, archives across Wales in connection with the appraisal of public records and how they are shared, if at all, with those in Denmark.

Johansen and Neuhard go on to describe the seemingly unique ‘power’ enjoyed by Danish archivists to ‘enforce archival interests and ensure that material […] is transferred to archives for long-term storage’. This apparently well-functioning state archiving process also results in regular large deposits of data into the national archives – which is good, or bad, depending on whether it may be your job to find the funds to store all of this data, year-on-year!

To bring some perspective to bear on the situation, Wales is not alone in having no national archival legislation, as such. We do have a National Digital Preservation Policy [], but this is not enshrined in legislation. In the absence of such legislation, the ARCW Digital Preservation Working Group represents a similar collaboration, as described by Johansen and Neuhard, towards the creation and operation of OAIS compliant preservation environments at each local records office across Wales and employing economies of scale to solve the challenges of limited volume, expertise and resources on the ground.

In the second instalment of this post, I plan to look at variation in national digital preservation policies I will provide a summary of which countries in the world have legislation in place covering digital preservation and which do not.




#1 Barbara Sierman 2019-04-06 12:03
Dear Alexander, you might find this resource useful:
Kind regards

Barbara Sierman

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