Information management function at the Amsterdam City Archives

8 gener, 2020 - Bert de Vries (MA, MBA), General Director Amsterdam City Archives. Maarten Langemeijer (MA), Senior advisor.

The Amsterdam City Archives is the archive repository of the city of Amsterdam. During the last decades we are going through the transition from paper to digital records. Since 2015, all new municipal records must be archived in a digital form. How do we prepare for a fully digital future?

Amsterdam City Archives(‘De Bazel’)

The municipality of Amsterdam produces a lot of information. From minutes and reports to records, datasets, policy documents, e-mails and social media messages, and everything in between.

The Amsterdam City Archives are a part of the municipality of Amsterdam. We have a budget of € 8 mln, 75 fte’s and we are housed in the beautiful ‘De Bazel’. 

In the Netherlands there is a law that regulates everything in the field of government information: the Archives Law  1995. The Archives Law  1995 stipulates that all government information (including government-created data, emails, apps, etc.) within a maximum period of 20 years is transferred to the Archive of that government organization: in the case of the Municipality of Amsterdam the City Archives. The Archive manages and stores the information and makes it available for the general public. In addition, the Archive guarantees the authenticity and reliability of the information.

For a number of years (almost) all newly produced government information has been digital. Because digital information is much less robust than paper  the Minister of Education, Culture and Science of the central government wants to adjust the transfer period in the Archives Law to a maximum of 10 years, so that authenticity, reliability and sustainability can be better guaranteed (incidentally, ‘transfer’ is in the case of digital archives a much more abstract concept than with paper).

At the same time,  a proposal for  a new Dutch Open Government Act stipulates that all government information must be made publicly accessible within a maximum of 5 years. In practice, this provision is likely to result in (virtually) all government information being transmitted within 5 years – and therefore publicly accessible.

The governmental administration (organizational units of the municipality of Amsterdam) are responsible for their own produced and used information before the transfer of records, both in terms of content and management. That means that all information must be properly managed, organized and must be accessible. In practice, information management at the governmental administration is by no means always in order. The cause is simple: money and knowledge are missing and the priority lies with the primary process.

The Municipal Archivist – ‘Gemeentearchivaris’; in Amsterdam – the director of the City Archives – is the supervisor of the information management of the municipality. He can set additional frameworks for information management, perform quality inspections and advise the management on how they should organize their information management. The Supervision, Policy and Advice Department of the City Archives performs these tasks as a ‘MA-Office’ on behalf of the Municipal Archivist.

A problem with transfer is the quality of the information. The archive creator at the base (the management, the city district) often does not have the knowledge, capacity and resources for good information management. This causes enormous congestion at the digital ports of the archive institutions when transferring, because all files must first be arranged before they can be properly recorded, managed, stored and made available by the archive. It takes years of time and a lot of effort from people and resources to catch up.

The big challenge  in transferring digital archives have led to the insight that it is strongly preferable to incorporate these characteristics from the start of the formation of the information system, both with regard to all quality guarantees and the accessibility (metadata). This method is therefore called ‘archiving-by design’, or information management-by-design. To organize this process  it will take some time before archiving-by-design has become commonplace, and therefore before digital archives can be transferred without any problems. Archiving by design is designing the archive function within newly build information systems.

The Amsterdam City Archives is working on the implementation of a new digital infrastructure (management, storage and accessibility), which must be fully completed by the end of 2020. With the new ‘backbone’, the City Archives is able to manage all the digital archives of the city of Amsterdam.

This new infrastructure of our Archives must be ready in 2020. The new E-repository leads to a new policy. Now we will promote that administrative bodies of the city of Amsterdam will transfer their records and data as soon as possible. It also is an option that we keep the records of the administrative bodies ‘as a service’. That means that we will keep the records even before the official transfer will take place. Before the information is officially transferred to the archive the administrative agency can ask the Archive to keep the records in place. We are now practicing with some pilots to see how this will work.   

Next to that, we still have a long way to go with the digital information that has been formed over the past twenty years, and the information that is currently being formed according to current principles and in the coming years, so without sustainable accessibility already is guaranteed during the commissioning of a system. For that information, the e-depot offers the possibility of achieving sustainable accessibility.

Archival theory and archival concept are not totally fitted to the new digital age. We think we still need 10 years to practice and running pilots to experience the behavior of digital records, trying to guarantee long term authenticity.  


All this shows that all information produced and used by the government (municipality of Amsterdam) counts as government information. All government information must be transferred to the archive repository (the City Archives) within a period of 20 years, soon 10 or 5 years and preferably even earlier (as soon as possible). The City Archives is setting up an e-Repository (ready 2020) to manage and save all transferred government information, and the Municipal Archivist may also designate other information carriers (servers, disks, etc.) as archive repository. With this we anticipate the principle of “single storage, multiple use”.

The City Archives are qualitatively equipped for managing, storing, preserving, making accessible, making available and interpreting information, while the Municipal Archivist supervises the quality of information management. Within the information chain, the City Archives thus fulfills the role of information manager (managing, storing, making available; the data layer) and the Municipal Archivist that of information management supervisor. The City Archives thus covers the total the information management function of the City of Amsterdam.  

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