Privacy in Public Archives: Managing Personally Identifiable Information in Special Collections

Zachary G. Stein


Archivists aim to make research and manuscripts accessible to the public. However, accessibility becomes tricky when donors or institutions enforce limitations. Sometimes limitations need to be enforced, especially when dealing with sensitive information such as personally identifiable information (PII), unpublished works, and student records. Redactions and restrictions may be necessary in these situations, but archives find this difficult to accomplish because of the size of the collections, results from previous accession practices, and the lack of staff and resources. The Special Collections department at Edith Garland Dupré Library, University of Louisiana at Lafayette is addressing this problem and has put forward methods to confront its backlog of PII while staying true to its accessibility mission. This article examines the challenges of handling PII in physical archival materials, the impact of More Product, Less Process (MPLP) on sensitive information, and how the Special Collections department, while using some MPLP processing methods, adopted a slightly more meticulous and efficient approach to protect privacy while still providing access.

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