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The first multidisciplinary European DLM-Forum (DLM-Forum'96) on electronic records which took place in Brussels between the 18th and 20th December 1996 was a major event in the investigation of possibilities for wider co-operation in this area both between Member States and at Community level. It was initiated by the experts' report Archives in the European Union (Report of the Group of Experts on the Coordination of Archives. Brussels - Luxembourg: OPOCE 1994) and confirmed by the EU-Council Conclusions of June 1994 .

Organised by the European Commission in close co-operation with the EU member states it hosted more than 300 experts and decision-makers from public administration, archives, industry (hard- and software suppliers) and research. The multidisciplinary approach and the aim to publish guidelines on machine readable data as a concrete result as well as the high quality of the presentations were the attractions that turned this inaugural event into a European forum of international interest in the field of electronic records administration and storage. Participants came from all the EU member states, from other European countries (including the Russian Federation and Poland), as well as from Canada and the USA.

First reviews that have been published by specialised journals are unanimously enthusiastic. The forum's success owed a lot to the Programme Committee's preparations and should also be attributed to the undivided and continuous support of the Irish and Dutch presidencies of the EU-Council.

The forum was opened by the Secretary General of the European Commission, David Williamson who emphasised that archives, including increasingly electronic documents, are our collective memory and how important it is to retain that memory and to insure that it remains accessible in the future. In their keynote addresses the Deputy Director General of the Directorate General for Science, Research and Development, Hendrik Tent and the Permanent Representative of Ireland to the European Union, H.E. Ambassador Denis O'Leary laid out the political and technical framework of the DLM-Forum'96. Mr Tent described the importance of the forum with respect to innovation in the digital era and the Commission's approach towards this challenge. Mr O'Leary stressed the role of archives in our society and the citizens' right of access to information. In his closing speech the Head of Commissioner Bangemann's Cabinet, Paul Weissenberg, pointed to the importance of electronic archives in the European Union's concept of the Information Society as set out in the Bangemann report and subsequent documents. He stressed the necessity of concrete measures as an immediate consequence to the DLM-Forum.

The 'life-cycle'-concept of electronic records guided the three parallel sessions. Thus the speakers in those sessions reflected on electronic documents in the different phases of their administrative life. The multitude of topics ranged from discussions of norms and standards for data interchange to the presentation of new electronic storage material. Surveys on the 'state of the art' in Europe completed this first interdisciplinary approach to retaining the collective memory of the Information Society.

It was the balance between working sessions and spontaneous and informal discussions outside those sessions that produced a most agreeable working atmosphere in which experts' debates led to the kind of mutual understanding and the establishment of personal ties and relations needed to solve problems that concern all the disciplines represented at the forum. Thus the catalyst effect, which was hoped for, was achieved: experts from industry and research became sensitive to the concerns of archives and administrations.

The forum will lead, as foreseen, to amendments to the first draft of multidisciplinary guidelines Best practices for using Machine Readable Data which had been distributed to the participants . Furthermore a document for follow-up measures, the so-called '10 points', was agreed on by the participants. One major topic for follow-up activities is the establishment of national focal points to improve co-ordination and networking and to establish functional requirements for electronic records management in the public and private sectors. Another topic concerns the urge for establishing training programmes for archivists and administrators.

In a world of continuous and rapid change modern archives services are an element of continuity, stability and a solid base for essential information and indispensable records. Modern archives' management in public and private institutions has to be dynamic, active and innovative, and above all has to cover the entire continuum of the life of documents. 'The DLM-Forum'96 demonstrated that the issues posed by the preservation and re-use of electronic records are central not only to the work of archivists, but also form the cornerstone of future economic growth and development within the European Union.' as Seamus Ross points out in his presentation. In short: the problem of preserving electronic records concerns even more people and areas than have been covered by the forum's participants. Further activities should include among others legal advisors, system designers and application developers, auditors and insurance providers. Contacts with existing working groups (e.g. the European Commission's Legal Advisory Board for the information market) have to be established or intensified. A first step to co-ordinate these activities is the installation of the DLM-Monitoring Committee in April 1997.

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