by David Sutton, International Council on Archives (ICA)
Introduction: one Section among twelve
SLA is one of a varied group of Sections which operate within ICA. The twelve Sections reflect the fact that in many languages there are two meanings for the word “archives” – archives as documents, and archives as institutions. Some ICA Sections are based around archives as institutions – for example, the Section of International Organisations (SIO), the Section on University Archives (SUV) and the Section of Local, Municipal and Territorial Archives (SLMT). Other Sections are based around archives as subject-based documents – for example, the Section on Sports Archives (SPO), the Section on Architectural Archives (SAR), the Section for Archives of Faith Traditions (SAFT), and our Section for Archives of Literature and Art (SLA). A few Sections may be said to combine both meanings – for example, the Section on Business Archives (SBA) and the Section for Archives of Parliaments and Political Parties (SPP).
SLA in the world of literary archives
Literary archives have characteristics which mark them out as different from other types of archives. Many other types of archives have limited financial or sale value and are housed in predictable locations. Literary archives may have a high financial value, and may have a diasporic nature which leads them to be housed in unpredictable locations. Literary archivists therefore often have to deal with issues of “the politics of location” and ethical acquisition policies. SLA tries to engage with creators and users of literary archives, as well as with literary archivists.
SLA: terms of reference
SLA has a formal set of terms of reference, specifying its officers, its committee and its requirement to hold meetings. In addition, its officers play a role in the management structure of ICA (Chairs of Sections, for example, are members of ICA’s governing Executive Board. The Section has also adopted a brief set of objectives, which reads: “The purpose of SLA is to communicate the cultural value and the magic of literary and artistic archives, and to create a worldwide network of literary archivists and users of literary archives“.
The messages promoted by the Section
Beyond this statement of purpose, SLA is committed to the idea that every country within the ICA family (i.e. over 190 countries around the world) should have a strategy for collecting personal papers in general, and literary archives in particular. This philosophy has underlain recent activities and projects in countries ranging from Malta and Brazil to Namibia and Cameroon.
Activities of the Section
Among the events recently organised by SLA have been workshops in Yaoundé on literary archives in Cameroon (2018), a session at the ICA conference in Mexico City on Caribbean literary archives (2017), and workshops in Windhoek on literary archives in Namibia (2015). In 2018 a special issue of ICA’s journal Comma will be published, devoted to current concerns in the world of literary archives (including important essays on digitisation and born-digital archives). SLA has also taken a keen interest, and an active role, in more general work on copyright for archivists and on “safe havens for archives at risk”. SLA also maintains a blog on literary archives, at:
Projects involving the Section
Among the SLA’s projects in recent years have been the following, some undertaken alone and some with partners:
- A World-wide Directory of Institutions Holding Literary Archives (available at: https://www.ica.org/en/world-wide-directory-repositories-holding-archives-literature-art);
- A Directory of literary manuscripts outside their home country;
- A project on the papers of dissident authors;
- A guidance document for archivists and literary authors entitled Authors and Their Papers;
- Projects on literary archives in Caribbean countries, and in African countries;
- A project on literary researchers and their needs.
Above all, SLA is a Section which operates in a spirit of international solidarity. It works to share knowledge and experience between richer countries and poorer countries, on a basis of equality and respect. It is interested in literary traditions in every country in the world, and their varied archival backgrounds. The special literary edition of Comma (2018) includes essays about literary archives in Brazil, Finland, Greece, Namibia, Russia and the USA, together with descriptions of literary archives from a wide variety of other countries – ranging from China, Japan and Korea to African countries including Cameroon and South Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean region. SLA seeks to move beyond an original focus which, twenty-five years ago, was far too Eurocentric, and to develop a truly global approach to literary archives.