Archiving a country’s records: In conversation with Dr. Saroja Wettasinghe

Dr. Saroja Wettasinghe is the Director of Sri Lanka’s National Archives. We begin our conversation by going into what she actually does, day to day, at the National Archives, and what as an institution, it stands for. When asked why the average citizen of the country should give a damn about the National Archives, Dr. Wettasinghe flags the kind of content the National Archives hold – including in particular the land records from when Sri Lanka was under colonial rule.

Given the destruction caused by, inter alia, high humidity, a tropical climate and insects, Dr. Wettasinghe then goes into how much of a challenge it is to preserve content. Dr. Wettasinghe has spent three decades at the National Archives, and speaks briefly about the changes at the institution during her long years of service. Dr. Wettasinghe laments the fact that despite enabling legislation, many government officers don’t in fact send to the National Archives important official records (in a country where some officials in fact go as far as to burn official records in cemeteries).

We then talk about the response from the public when the National Archives has taken some of its content and displayed it in areas far removed from Colombo, and also its outreach programmes with schools. She goes on to speak about an enduring challenge at the National Archives – the lack of manpower and resources to more fully embrace information technologies that can help in curation and archival of vital content, including the official information produced today by web based social media, blogs, websites and other forms of electronic communication. While Dr. Wettasinghe is extremely keen to modernise the National Archives, she acknowledges that due to the significant financial and human resource shortfalls, she is unable to do so.

We go on to talk about some of the special and private collections at the National Archives – including thousands of photos and other material, spanning decades, gifted by members of the public and foreigners.  She goes to record that there are specific regulations being contemplated to help her office deal with the archival of information in television and radio – which in the future can help with a fuller and more diverse record of contemporary history. Towards the end of the programme, she talks about how the National Archives is open to records and material from the public, which they think is of historical value and significance and how they can deposit this content.

  • Off the Cuff

    Thanks for this great interview. Very informative. More on the way I hope.
    Kind regards,
    OTC