Emmett Leahy Award Acceptance Speech

Luciana Duranti


Thank you very much for this award. The fact that you have chosen to confer it to an academic who has no practical experience in records management, other than as a scholar testing hypotheses, reveals how far the profession and the discipline have gone since the times of Emmett Leahy. The citation accompanying this award is even more meaningful, and I would like to comment briefly on the two motivations that are the most important to me, the introduction of diplomatics into our professional body of knowledge, and the results of the three research projects that I have directed over the past twelve years.

These motivations are important because, by implicitly stating that study and research on their own merit have a significant impact on records management professional practices, they demonstrate that our field has graduated to the rank of a science, with a body of theory and methods that determines and guides the way in which our activities are carried out. As a consequence, now the record management body of knowledge configures itself as a system, which owes its integrity to its logical internal cohesion and to the existence of a clear purpose that governs it from outside (i.e. the control of the documentary by-product of human activities) and that determines the boundaries within which it operates. Inside this system, the theory of the record comprises the ideas we hold about the nature of the object of our care, its characteristics, its components, elements, attributes, genesis, and behaviour; and the methodology comprises the ideas we hold about the way such object should be treated; while the practice is the application of both types of ideas in real situations.


This is a great leap forward from the times of Leahy, when there was hardly a discipline to speak of guiding the then limited number of practitioners. As a matter of fact, if a discipline comprises a body of rules that "disciplines" the research of the scholar and the knowledge resulting from such research, we have not had a records discipline in North America till the 1980s, when the substantial body of practical knowledge developed in the previous decades began to be organized into principles and procedures. It is important that the profession has recognized the conceptual link between those principles and procedures and the theory and methods of the old science of diplomatics, and the need for research aimed at developing it as the core of our professional knowledge to be integrated into classroom education.

Research is a critical component of a graduate level program for records professionals because it is an expression of the intellectual nature of the record discipline, the scholarly substance of the work that records professionals do, and the status of records studies with respect to other graduate programs. It is vital to provide courses on records and archival research and professional scholarship in order to equip students with the knowledge necessary not only to produce new research but also to understand and interpret existing research. Armed with this knowledge, they may conduct research for their thesis, or on a smaller scale through directed research projects or a directed study, courses that involve in-depth investigation of a specific issue or problem. Most importantly, they would be enabled to work as paid research assistants on faculty research projects. This component of graduate education is strongly recognized by employers, especially in a context that changes so fast, to the point that, these days, employers prefer individuals who have just graduated to individuals with five years experience, which used to be the standard requirement.


The University of British Columbia's doctoral program in records and archival studies is increasing opportunities and incentives for more systematic and comprehensive research in our discipline. Whereas the primary aim of our master's level program is to educate future professionals who are also able to conduct research to deal with new challenges and develop better programs in their organization, the primary purpose of the doctoral program is to educate future scholars and educators. Instituting a doctoral program was a logical step in advancing research agendas in the record discipline and in producing educators for other university programs, thereby fostering the increase in number and quality of such programs. It was also an essential step in strengthening the status of records studies within the university.

Graduate programs are judged to a significant degree by the quality and quantity of the research produced by faculty and students. Faculty members in professional programs are expected to conduct grant-funded research like those in other disciplines, and to use their research projects as a means of training students to be researchers. This is why expanding the opportunities for research in programs like ours is vital to their success and growth. Of course, the decision of the Canadian federal granting agency to allocate substantial funding to our research initiatives constitutes an important recognition by the academic community of the scholarly substance of the work of record professionals; thus, the early efforts to build such substance through the development of diplomatics have paid off in several ways. The research I have conducted for and with my students has resulted in several publications, in additional research projects, in seminars, workshops and other presentations, and in specific products that have already had a noticeable impact worldwide. But, mostly, it has resulted in a new attitude towards our "science" on the part of records creators and users and of technology providers.


The InterPARES research in my view has done much more than develop new knowledge about digital records, their reliable and accurate creation and their authentic preservation. It has created a research method and structure built on collaborative work groups, generating in the process a research "community" where none existed. This community of researchers, international in scope and multidisciplinary in focus, comprises for the major part (60%) records creators, records users and technology providers. By demonstrating that it is impossible to preserve digital records if they are not properly made, transmitted though space and time, and maintained, and by involving these three categories of individuals in case studies, surveys, building of prototypes, testing of results, and writing frameworks for policy development and guidelines for strategies and standards, InterPARES has put those individuals right among us record professionals and has put the record discipline right at the core of their own activities. To observe music theorists and composers, film producers and makers, geographers, architects, astronomers, biologists, notaries, etc. speaking at their own disciplinary conferences about reliable record creation, preservation of accuracy, identity and integrity metadata, classification, and the like makes me think that, if all I have accomplished has been to make some of these individuals willing and enthusiastic participants in the management and preservation of their records and in the protection of a democratic accountable society, all my efforts were worth the pain.


My journey through the records management field began with the intuition that our professional responsibility would have progressively moved towards the very beginning of the life-cycle. Twenty years ago, records creation was just a small chapter-mostly about form design and management-in any records management book. Today, it occupies most of the book, and its substance is the theory of the record. If we are not able to identify at the outset what constitutes the record in complex information systems, to stabilize it, and link it to its identity and to the responsibilities for its handling, we will have nothing to manage or at least worth managing. After all, as Chesterton put it, "the beginning is the best place to begin." And to do it, we must know beforehand what we are looking for, but, one may ask how can we know if technology is constantly changing. We can, because, differently from Emmett Leahy, who had to learn through trial and error, we have a science to rely upon, which is constantly enriched by the research being conducted by scholars and graduate students and tested by those who have the strongest stake in the outcome: the records creators and users. In The Late Mattia Pascal, Pirandello wrote that "outside the network of relationships expressed in the records that makes of us who we are, we do not exist." Through the experiences of the past decades records creators and users have had a taste of such loss. Now they know and they are not likely to make the same mistakes. The good part of it is that we are now and will continue to be ready.


Thank you for this important recognition, which sends a clear message to our clients, to our universities, and to society as a whole. I am deeply honored by it.

Presentation of the 2006 Leahy Award to Luciana Duranti

Annual Business Meeting of the Institute of Certified Records Managers

San Antonio, Texas
October 22, 2006


Opening Remarks

Eugenia Brumm


The Emmett Leahy Award is considered to be the most prestigious recognition given to a professional records manager. It is presented annually to recognize an individual whose contributions and outstanding accomplishments have had significant impact on the records and information management professions. It is differentiated from other awards in the following ways:

  • The nominee does not have to be a member of a professional organization.

  • The Award does not include a service component.

  • The Award acknowledges the unique contributions of an individual who has moved the field in a direction that it might not have gone otherwise.

  • The Award recognizes the visionary, the inventor and the prophet in records and information management.

The Emmett Leahy Award is not based on volume or number of contributions, although the recipient this year certainly could have won based on volume and number - if those would have been the criteria. The recipient this year has authored 3 books, edited one book, wrote 15 book chapters, 74 refereed articles and 39 non-refereed articles. In addition, this person has presented 180 formal papers and offered short courses, seminars and workshops in about 30 different universities and about 20 archival institutions worldwide, at the same time as teaching 4 courses at a major University and supervising students' theses.

The Emmett Leahy Award is not based on garnering significant amount of monies in grants, although the recipient this year certainly could have won based on having received over $5 .5 million to conduct research and to fund projects surrounding electronic records. In addition, she has been responsible for additional funding being devoted to those projects in excess of $10 million.

The Emmett Leahy Award is not based on revamping education for the profession, although the recipient this year certainly could have won based on developing new university courses, revamping those that existed and introducing the concepts and principles embedded in the 17th century science of diplomatics to form the foundation of records management. As a result of her incorporating a large body of theory, methods, international policies, strategies, standards and practices into the curriculum, in 1998, the Master of Archival Science program at the University of British Columbia won the first ever Society of American Archivists "Distinguished Service Award" given to an education program.

As important as this work has been in providing a conceptual and theoretical construct for our profession, it is more than matched by the recipient's work and contributions in the study of electronic records, their management, preservation and authenticity. The recipient has spearheaded international research projects and movements that have resulted in enormous, long-lasting and ground-breaking contributions to the field of electronic records. Beginning with a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research council of Canada (SSHRC) in 1994, the recipient collaborated with a colleague to conduct what was to become known as the UBC Project - a study on the "Preservation of the Integrity of Electronic Records." The UBC Project defined the requirements for creating, handling and preserving reliable and authentic active electronic records. During the course of this study, the recipient collaborated with the United States Department of Defense Records Management Task Force to identify requirements for records management application software. The resulting requirements have become incorporated into what is DOD 5015.2 and in the MoReq Standard - Model Requirements for Management of Electronic Records - the latter co-authored by the recipient.

This early work led to the conception and development of InterPARES - International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems. In fact, it was interest in the findings of the UBC Project that launched the InterPARES project. This project was supported by a SSHRC Major Collaborative Research Initiative grant and several other matching funds by other Canadian institutions and by the granting agencies of the participating 13 countries for a total of $8 million. This multi-disciplinary international research project began in 1998, directed and coordinated by the recipient. The research teams were: Australian, Canadian, Chinese, European, the Global Industry Research Team, Italian and the United States as well as national archival institutions. An International Team was created, comprised of representatives of all the research units and all the participating institutions, chaired by the recipient. This multi-disciplinary international research project addressed the long-term preservation of authentic electronic administrative records. Four Research domains addressed the following questions:

  • What is required to prove the authenticity of electronic records?
  • How do we select electronic records for preservation?
  • How do we preserve authentic electronic records?
  • What policies, strategies and standards will protect the authenticity of electronic records over time?

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Over the life of InterPARES, it has involved more than 100 researchers from a total of 25 countries. The findings and products of InterPARES have had and are having a strong impact in all participating communities. The Requirements for Authenticity have become legislation in China and the metadata sets identified throughout the Chain of Preservation activities are being considered by ISO/TC 46/SC11. UNESCO has given the recipient two consecutive grants for adapting InterPARES findings to Caribbean and Latin American situations. The first grant has produced formal courses and workshops in several Latin countries and the Brazil electronic records program will be launched later this year. The InterPARES studies are remarkable not just for the collaborative methodology, but also for the impact of that collaboration. In her structuring of the InterPARES projects, the recipient has created a research community where none existed.

Earlier this year, the recipient was awarded the prestigious Killam Research Prize - a program that is designed to honor and support eminent Canadian scholars. The following are some comments made by the referees of this award:

Of InterPARES I, a referee states: that it "produced some signal results for the future of digital preservation. Perhaps the most fundamental and important was the notion of authentic digital copies."

Another referee has noted: "The true accomplishment here that will extend well beyond current funding and project outcomes is the establishment of an international and multidisciplinary network of researchers focusing on digital archiving and the preservation of electronic records. This is unprecedented and unimaginable only a decade ago."

The size, scope and impact of these efforts are enormous, and we have yet to see and experience all of the ripple effects of the work that she has spearheaded. It does go to prove that one person can make a difference. And that person is Dr. Luciana Duranti. The Emmett Leahy Awards Committee is proud to present the 2006 Emmett Leahy Award to Dr. Luciana Duranti.