Archives, libraries and museums in an open information society

In our globalising world, co-operation between archives, libraries and museums is of great importance both on the national and international level. Such co-operation is even more significant considering the fact that often no clear dividing line can be drawn between archives, libraries and museums solely on the basis of their name or their main aims. Thus there are many extremely rare printed texts in many archives, and archives possess not only large but also very extensive libraries. Museum depositories and expositions often contain printed texts and archive records and, finally, in a number of libraries there are special manuscript departments which are often large enough to be considered as archives.

The bulk of information that falls into the hands of archives, libraries and museums is far greater than it has ever been before and it continues to grow geometrically. These days all cultural collections have an extremely wide range of sources from which to choose, but making the actual choice has become ever more difficult and those in charge of making the choices are carrying a heavy load of responsibility. After all, decisions made today will have a huge impact on the kind of information about past generations, and about the present generation that will reach our descendants.

The collections of archives, libraries and museums are put together with a view to the future — only items of lasting value are worth collecting. However, the principles behind such a process are always rooted in the present. In earlier times people were satisfied with the choice that the time had made for them and all the antiquities that had survived until a certain time were considered worthy of being preserved. At present the focus has changed: it is not only the old and discarded things, such as books and documents, that museums, libraries and archives want to collect. Libraries receive compulsory copies of printed texts and archives contribute to the creation of new documents in various institutions and observe the route of these documents until they finally reach the archives. Furthermore, museums do not necessarily mean collections of rarities originating from a distant past anymore: in addition to the past, museums are now also concerned with the present time.

In our contemporary information society, the openness of society and free access to information are considered extremely important. The activities of Estonian archives, libraries and museums are based on the principles of democracy, the rule of law and an open society set out in the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia and in other legal acts. Everybody has free access to the information intended for public use under legislation governing a particular field of activity or under the statues of certain institutions and according to rules of usage thereof. According to the State Secrets Act and the Personal Data Protection Act, access to information is restricted as far as materials containing state secrets or sensitive personal data are concerned.

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