JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Archives are records that can be found in many formats such as paper-based, electronic, and audio visual.
  • Archives are important in understanding one's history.
  • The Jamaica Archives and Records Departments gives support to Government entities in the management of records, and assists researchers.

Archives are records that can be found in many formats such as paper-based, electronic, and audio visual. They safe-guard information and play a critical role in the preservation of a country’s history and identity.

“We all produce records in our daily lives but some records are more important than others as you can imagine and those are the ones we select for permanent preservation,” Government Archivist, John Aarons, at the Jamaica Archives and Records Department explains.

He states that archives are important in understanding one’s history and notes that all historians use archival records in order to glean information.

“For example when the Government was going to declare Nanny a National Hero, they had to find information about her. So they commissioned a historian, Edward Kamau Braithwaite, to do research in the archives to see what he could learn about Nanny and what she did,” Mr. Aarons says.

“And he found in the archives in Spanish Towns records relating to Nanny. So without the archives we will be in serious trouble,” he adds.

The Jamaica Archives and Records Departments gives support to Government entities in the management of records, and assists researchers.

It is a department of the Ministry of Information, Culture, Youth and Sports, and is governed by the Archives Act of 1982 and the Archives Regulations of 1988. It also consists of the Office of Government Archivist, responsible for the general administration of the Department and common services.

The Collections of the Department can be divided into two categories – the Historical Collection, housed in the Archives Unit, and the Audiovisual Collection, comprising the holdings of the former Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, housed at the Audio Visual Unit.

In terms of new initiatives, Mr. Aarons says that the Department now has a website (www.jard.gov.jm) but notes that it needs to do more publications aimed at young people.

“It is something that we plan to do, to make our records come alive, and also to put on our website information from our collections, photographs, and illustrations, to make them more aware of what we have,” the archivist says.

“One of our main focus at the moment is to assist Government departments to deal with records in electronic format, which is one of our major challenges now. So our focus now is in records management,” he adds.

Mr. Aarons explains that record management involves organising records, so as to make them available for current use, or to dispose of them in an orderly manner, after they have fulfilled their purposes.

“The archives (Department), is the only organisation that can give permission to a Government agency to dispose of their records, either to be destroyed or for selection to the archives,” he says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Aarons says that the major challenge faced by archivists, is the electronic environment in which they work. He adds that the technology continues to change.

“Look at three and a quarter diskettes; it is no longer in use. We have CDs now but CDs are not meant to last, they are meant for current purposes, so how do we preserve information over the long term and how do you ensure that these records are reliable and authentic and usable?” Mr. Aarons asked.

“You have to keep migrating to new technology. Look at audio visual – we have materials on pneumatic format. Now we have to transfer them to new media because you cannot go and buy machines any more like that, so this is one of the major challenges facing archives around the world, technology is moving very rapidly,” Mr Aarons adds.

The Jamaica Archives Department, has three units: the Archives Unit, the Government Records Centre and the Audio Visual Archives Unit.

The Archives Unit (based in Spanish Town), is the main repository for the country’s archival collection, which dates back to the 17th century. It is open to the public daily and provides reference and research services.