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The release of copies to researchers is to be made easier

The International Tracing Service (ITS) wants to lift the current restrictions concerning the release of copies to researchers. The rules on fees and tariffs and the online form for research requests have been revised accordingly. "Our aim is and remains to provide the best possible access for research", said ITS director Jean-Luc Blondel. "We hope that the planned new regulations will bring more clarity." They will come into effect as soon as they will have been approved by the International Commission, whose eleven member states stipulate the guidelines for the work of the ITS. The Commission will hold a meeting in Paris in mid-November 2011.

In principle, researchers in Bad Arolsen have free access to all documents in the ITS archives. However, the release of copies was limited by the rules on fees and tariffs introduced in October 2010. These rules stated that "handing out copies of entire record groups or collections” was “not admissible ". In practice, this formulation proved obstructive, as the ITS had not previously classified its collections based on professional archival terms. An inventory list served as orientation, according to which an individual sheet of paper might be classified "an entire record group" as might several folders. "The ITS did not use to be an archive. It has been a tracing service for the past six decades. We need time to reorganise", explained Blondel. "When it comes to presenting its archives in the future, the ITS will adhere to international standards in archive terminology."

The new rules on fees and tariffs do not include any archival terms in order to avoid misunderstandings. Researchers can request copies of documents "provided they relate to the subject of the research request." "We consider orientation around a concrete research topic to be a good and practical way forward", explained Blondel. With the new regulations the ITS has responded to criticism from researchers concerning the practice of making copies.

Topics including the use of an archival terminology based on international standards, user access to the archives, and the methods of archival description have been discussed over the past two days as part of a meeting. Fourteen participants from seven states took part, including archivists from Yad Vashem, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the French and Belgian National Archives. These institutions work with complete digital copies of the documents from the ITS archive. Access for researchers is based on national data protection regulations. The ITS received broad approval for the new way of indexing its archives, which led to the publication of the first four finding aids last year. "The archival description will increase the transparency and will improve access for researchers", said ITS archivist Karsten Kühnel.