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An information goldmine: The World Bank Group Archives goes online

 Accessing the holdings of the World Bank Group archives

Until recently, archives users — including academics, development partners, and other researchers — had to travel miles, sometimes even across continents, to be able to access records kept in the World Bank Group Archives. But now, users will no longer have to be in Washington, D.C. to look at declassified materials.

In April 2015, as part of its commitment to transparency and openness, the World Bank Group launched its Archives Holdings website. This is a state-of-the-art platform, which maximizes the public’s online access to a vast amount of original primary source material in the custody of the Archives.
Created using the Access to Memory open source software, the website facilitates a faster, more efficient, and personalized online service delivery model. The software serves as a catalog that provides basic information about the resources of the Archives, and it is equipped with user-friendly finding aids compliant with the International Standard for Archival Description. The website delivers an increasing quantity of digitized records from the early 1940s onward, making them available for the first time to public users who cannot come to the Archives reading room in Washington, D.C.

While the World Bank Group recognizes its obligation to maintain the confidentiality of certain restricted information, the Archives Holdings website offers a vast number of administrative and operational records created by different departments in the Bank. Users can now also access iconic historical records, such as President McNamara’s Nairobi Speech (1973).
In addition to documents that provide a broad perspective on the Bank’s activities over seven decades, other featured materials include:

  • Records describing the evolution of development assistance theory;
  • Policies and procedures for development projects;
  • Economic studies and research studies;
  • Mechanisms for country assistance, and more.

Image​The website was launched as part of the new Open Archives program, a key component of the Bank’s landmark Policy on Access to Information (AI Policy). This program aims to make information easily accessible to the public, and maximize the impact of its open initiatives. By enabling access to the oldest and only multiregional development archives, we give voice to the experience of generations of development workers and their counterparts to help answer the questions and inform the decisions of today's development community. Through the Archives Holdings website the Bank provides increased access to the Archives’ paper holdings, including records that countries’ archives have lost due to natural disasters, decay, or destruction during political turmoil.
Since the launch of the AI Policy in 2010, Archives has released an unprecedented amount of information to the public. To date, up to 1.7 million pages of archival documents have been declassified, and over 775,000 pages have been digitized, which are now available for online access. Within a period of two weeks from the launch date, the Archives Holdings website registered over 1,700 online visits, with close to 8,000 page views. Compared with the total number of 200 researchers who visited the Archives reading room since 2010, reviewing records for weeks at a time, this confirms that online access boosts the use of this unique resource.
We hope that the Archives Holdings website, as a key element of the Bank’s Open Development initiative, will help foster understanding, knowledge, and the development of new solutions to new problems based on awareness of the past, what worked and what did not. 
Please share your stories on how you have used World Bank Archives information. Let your voice be heard! Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Also, check how familiar you are with World Bank resources and information! Take the World Bank Openness Quiz and share your results on social media!

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Elisa Liberatori Prati

Chief Archivist, World Bank Group and and the Director of the Knowledge & Information Services Department in the Information & Technology Solutions (ITS) vice-presidency

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