Reykjavík Municipal Archives to Be Closed Down

Yesterday, the City Council of Reykjavík approved the mayor’s proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives. The operations of the Municipal Archives would be incorporated into the National Archives of Iceland. Historians and archivists have criticised the decision, RÚV reports.

Operations to be transferred to the National Archives

Yesterday, Reykjavík City Council approved Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson’s proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives. The mayor’s proposal was presented at a city council meeting six months ago, although its formal processing was postponed until yesterday.

The proposal was predicated on a summary authored by KPMG, which reviewed the operation of the Municipal Archives and assessed three possible options to cut down costs: one, to continue running the Municipal Archives in its current form; two, to increase cooperation with the National Archives of Iceland, which would imply the construction of a new archive; and three, to close down the Municipal Archives and transfer its operation to the National Archives. The last option was considered, by far, the cheapest.

Mayor Dagur told RÚV that the city council had made “a policy decision,” but that the matter would go before the city executive council. “The [path] that was chosen was to start discussions with the National Archives about joint digital preservation and, in effect, the merging of these institutions. That would mean that the Municipal Archives, in its current form, would no longer be an independent entity.”

According to available analyses, operational changes will not be felt over the next four years, Dagur noted. “It will depend on the progress made during discussions, on the outcome of those discussions, and the overall outcome regarding these preservation issues in the country as a whole.” On this latter point, Dagur referred to the global discussion concerning the digital preservation of documents. He hopes that museums in Iceland will unite to ensure safe and accessible document storage.

“Our discussions have solely been positive and constructive,” Dagur said of his relationship with the state. “The National Archives is, in many ways, facing the same challenges as the Municipal Archives and the city itself. If we look to other countries, we see that they’re facing similar challenges, as well.”

Dagur observed that there was no reason to believe that ensuring access to archives would not improve if matters were handled properly. The goal was to translate a lot of data into digital form so that individuals weren’t forced to look to a single place in order to access documents.

A misguided decision based on limited understanding

As noted by RÚV, the proposal to close down the Reykjavík Municipal Archives surprised Svanhildur Bogadóttir, an archivist employed at the institution, when the media reported the proposal in the middle of last month. National Archivist Hrefna Róbertsdóttir further commented that, to the best of her knowledge, this would be the first time that a municipality’s archives were closed.

Sigurður Gylfi Magnússon, professor of history at the University of Iceland, told RÚV that the proposal was misguided and showed a limited understanding of museum issues.

Mayor Proposes Closing Reykjavík Municipal Archive for Budgetary Reasons

Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson has proposed that the Reykjavík Municipal Archive be shut down for budgetary reasons, RÚV reports. Per the proposal, the archive’s primary functions would be assumed by the National Archive and the dissemination of, and educational outreach related to the archive’s holdings would become the responsibility of the Reykjavík City Museum. If the proposal is approved by the city council, Reykjavík would be the first municipality in the country to close a district archive, and perhaps the only European capital not to maintain its own archive.

The Reykjavík Municipal Archive was founded in 1954. It stores over 10,500 shelf metres of documents and has also increased its digital holdings and services in recent years.

Under Icelandic law, municipalities are permitted, but not required, to operate a district archive. Iceland’s National Archives already oversees archival duties for municipalities that do not maintain their own archives. The mayor’s proposal suggests that the capital simply follow suit, as costs of effectively maintaining an archive are only expected to increase in order to keep pace with the demands of record keeping in the digital era.

In 2022, it cost the City of Reykjavík over ISK 170 million [$1.18 million; €1.10 million] to operate its Municipal Archive. It is expected to cost an additional ISK 10 million [$69,587; €64,910] to operate the archive in 2023. According to archivist Svanhildur Bogadóttir, however, the actual cost to run the archive is relatively low; a third of their budget goes towards the rent they pay the City of Reykjavík.

Reykjavík Archive does not have resources to fulfil its mandate, says private audit

The mayor’s proposal comes in the wake of an assessment conducted by auditing and accounting firm KPMG, which states that based on current funding, the Reykjavík Municipal Archive does not have the resources to fulfil its mandate. KPMG’s assessment suggests that beyond the basic savings associated with greater cooperation between the Municipal and National Archives, this arrangement would also lend itself to a number of additional benefits: better facilities, better use of staff expertise, and improved services.

Although they were aware that KPMG was conducting an assessment related to “strategic planning” for the Municipal Archive, none of the employees had any idea that there was talk of closing their place of work all together before the mayor submitted his proposal. One plan that had been on the table was for the Municipal and National Archives to be relocated to the same building, but in that scenario, they were intended to remain separate entities.

The mayor’s proposal does not outline will happen to the Municipal Archive’s staff—nine full-time and two temporary employees—in the event that the archive is closed.