Safeguarding Our Institutional Heritage

| Written by Andre DP Encarnacion

A time capsule, a bridge between past and present. Visit any UP campus and such a description might come close to embodying UP’s place in Philippine history. Everything, from the structures to the discourses taking place within them, was shaped by some of the most profound ideas ever thought of.

In the case of UP Diliman, there is probably no other place that embodies this role of being a memory keeper as the University Archives. Located in a nondescript place on the third floor of the Main Library, the Archives contains some of the most timeless pieces bearing the University’s cultural heritage.

 

University Archives Head Librarian Eimee Rhea Lagrama. Photo by Misael Bacani, UP MPRO.

 

“We are, to coin a term, the memory keeper of our University,” said Archives Head Librarian Eimee Rhea Lagrama. “What we have here are materials—paper-based for now—with cultural heritage, research, informational and historical value.”

As one might imagine of a place that contains everything, from a National Artist’s handwritten notes to the theses and dissertations of UP students, the protection of sensitive information is a pressing and constant priority. Sadly, even for a University that prides itself on its history, not many know about the contents of the Archives and, consequently, what to make of the information found therein.

So what kind of information does the Archives section contain, and what are the right steps to protect them?

Four sections

What might appear as a unitary section is actually divided into four. According to Lagrama they are: (a) the bindery/preservation section; (b) the UPiana (containing all UP publications) section; (c) University records; and, (d) the personal papers section. Inclusion in any of these is determined by the permanent value a document gains through the course of the University’s transactions, in addition to its specification under Republic Act No. 9470 or the National Archives Act.

Many visitors associate the Archives with either University records or the personal papers section. What distinguishes the two? According to Lagrama, University records are defined strictly as comprising of documents that are part of regular transactions (e.g., leave forms).

Personal papers, on the other hand, are explicit products of UP-associated persons, be they faculty, administrators or notable alumni. “I’ll give the example of Guillermo Tolentino,” Lagrama said. “He has personal papers with us. What exactly? Biographical information, legal documents. I think the death certificate is there, school records. Some of his drafts are also there.”

Sensitive and confidential

While Tolentino has long since passed, his case makes it easy to imagine how sensitive or confidential information might be included in the Archives relating to living people. Lagrama admits that there are some personal papers and University records that contain information that cannot be accessed by just anyone.

One basis they have for allowing access to personal papers is the actual donor’s request. “We have donors who do not want specific parts of their collections opened while they are alive. I also remember that we have a collection where even the owner’s passport was with us. Although he is long gone, we decided that for passports and other personal documents, we need to look if they are covered by data privacy and err on the side of caution.”

For University records, Lagrama and her staff are careful, especially when legal documents are included for cases still being disputed. “Usually they are related to the law or, for example, to cases filed against students and facylty. These are documents that we can’t just grant access to and we are very strict about that.”

Specific measures

Lagrama said that it might be a good idea to review their current collection to meet the University’s data privacy needs since, while the concept of data privacy is fairly new, their office has been collecting UP’s documents since it was founded in 1974. Personal collections as well as scholarly products might contain information that could prove risky to either their owners or research participants.

Luckily, at least for theses and dissertations, there exists Memorandum No. FRN 15-XXX issued in 2015 by UP Diliman Vice Chancellor for Research and Development (OVCRD) Fidel Nemenzo. The Memorandum provides guidelines to mark their titles as containing: I: a patentable/registrable innovation; P: content that the author intends to publish personally; or, C: confidential information from a third party.

For studies marked as above, Lagrama said that the Archives gives the authors an embargo period of one year, which is renewable, to either publish, patent or delete the information in question before their work is made publicly available.

Thankfully, Lagrama noted that in many of the colleges, students do avail of, and even extend, the embargo period if necessary. She also added that there are current plans to extend the initial embargo to three or five years. For now, students can easily request for an extension when the time is up.

 

Photo by Jonathan M. Madrid, UP MPRO.

 

Institutional memory

Lagrama said the primary importance of a University Archives is, recalling George Santayana, to protect the history that helps people in the here-and-now to avoid repeating its mistakes. As the UP Main Library currently undergoes renovation, however, she and her colleagues hope to start a project focused explicitly on the future.

Lagrama believes that before the data privacy policy can be effectively exercised, offices in government should be well-versed in effective records management practices. It makes sense that before we protect the information we have, we should have a records retention and disposition schedule that helps everyone know what documents they should be keeping, who can access them, and how long they should be kept. Armed with an instrument that she helped design with one of her graduate students, Lagrama hopes to use the time available to her and her colleagues to strengthen record-keeping practices across UP.

Guiding others towards a better future is, of course, part of what makes the University Archives a beloved reflection of what UP stands for. Lagrama says, “Having this institutional memory instills in you a sense of identity. It gives you a better sense of who you are as a UP student and Filipino citizen, and at the same time of why we are here and where we are going.”


 

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