Talking About the Archives of the Spanish Universities at the Time of the COVID-19

Pepita Raventós
Archivist and Records Manager, University of Lleida (Catalonia, Spain)
Member of CAU, Bureau Member of ICA/SUV

This post in times of pandemic wants to begin with a positive message and an opportunity to share with you the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Spanish Universities’ Archivists Conference (CAU).

The aim of the CAU is to encourage cooperation between the Archivists of Spanish Universities in all technical areas related to university records, in order to achieve greater efficiency in the management of their services and to disseminate their knowledge among all members of the university community and society in general.


CAU’s 25th Anniversary celebrated in Bilbao in 2019. ©Pepita Raventós

Since its creation in 1994, this work has benefited the development of the records and archival management system of both public and private universities. This system is fed by the results of each archive, which are collected through the situation survey and the work carried out by the CAU’s working groups. The management of records has been present since the beginning of its work within the universities and, furthermore, the promotion and integration of records management.

The configuration of the CAU with a defined purpose such as the management and administration of university records in all their cycle of the life, has allowed it to obtain very important results for the universities as a whole and for the archives in particular. Digital administration poses additional difficulties to the management as developed so far, which CAU is also focused on, studying and working to find the most suitable ways of managing and administering records and information content at the universities.

One of the issues that has always generated debate in the archival profession has been the terminology and definition of basic concepts in theory and practice. The CAU does a very remarkable job in proposing a common framework and establishing a common terminology for records management and its archival consideration, the specific holdings of the universities and the university archive essentially.

It was born out of the concern of three women: “the archivists of the Universities of Oviedo, Valladolid and Alcalá de Henares took the initiative and decided to put into practice what was seen as a need and we thought it would be interesting to create a forum to deal with our problems, doubts, experiences and shortcomings and thus the idea was born of holding a meeting that would bring together all those Universities that had an Archivist and Archive and those that, even without one, felt the need to create one” (Peña, 2004: 2).[1]

At that time, the universities that had an archive perceived it as a tool to support historical research only, so that almost no Spanish university seriously considered the need to specifically manage recent records. This initial meeting, which gradually became what is now the CAU, had to face up to a new situation in the Spanish archival panorama, and that was to include records management. This was not to the detriment of the preservation of records, although the initial perception for some archivists seemed to be that this was due to the separation between administrative and historical archives. What was being promoted was an integrated management of records for the cycle of its life. This item today is continuing to be a great challenge for the CAU as it has been for the past 25 years of operation.

The CAU is a permanent working group within the sectorial of general secretaries of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE). It is the CRUE that has given it a legal entity since 2002. This has meant that it has been given a set of rules and a structure with a president and an executive secretary. This president is a general secretary of one of the universities that form part of the CRUE, and is intended to coincide with the office of general secretary of the university in which the executive secretary of the CAU works to facilitate decision-making. The executive secretary of the CAU is one of the archivists of the Spanish universities and is elected by the CAU assembly.

Over the years, CAU’s visible structure has not changed. It is basically based on three elements: The Plenary Session, the Executive Committee and the Working Groups.


CAU’s Members. Bilbao, 2019. ©Basque Country University

The Plenary Session is made up of all the universities that have archives and is held on the last day of the annual conference organised by CAU. This peculiarity distinguishes CAU from other professional associations, because it is made up exclusively of institutional members, i.e. the universities that have sent their archivists to the annual plenary meeting. In fact, in cases where it is necessary to vote in order to make decisions, only one vote per university will be counted. Formally, all Spanish public or private universities that are members of the CRUE are part of the CAU, and the university that considers that its archivist should be effectively integrated into the CAU will only inform the Executive Secretary so that he or she can attend the meeting that is held just once a year. There is no system of admission or expulsion of members here. In practice, the association’s decisions are taken by the archivists who are present at the plenary sessions.

The Executive Committee is composed of four university archivists, elected by the Plenary from among its members every two years. It is responsible for coordinating the Working Groups, implementing the decisions of the Plenary session and coordinating the Conference with the organising university. One of its members, in turn, is appointed executive secretary, with general coordination and representation functions.

However, what really gives meaning to the CAU are the Working Groups, which began to be promoted as soon as it was created and were set up to better carry out the functions of the CAU. In the still open history of the CAU, there have been twenty-one working groups, some of which have now disappeared. All the working groups have been set up during Plenary sessions at the initiative of one member. The oldest group, which continues its work today, is that dedicated to the appraisal; the studies have been and continue to be a help to the work of the university archivists. Other groups have had a shorter life span; for example, the group dedicated to drawing up a model regulation or that dedicated to the externalisation of services finished their tasks after one year. There are groups with a somewhat irregular history, combining periods of intense work with others apparently more lax; this is the case of those dedicated to human resources or the adaptation of international standards of description or quality. Others have evolved and changed their name, such as the Digital Administration Group, which began as the Electronic Records Management Group and then continued as the Electronic Records Management Policy Group, to make it clearer where university archivists consider their organizations should go within electronic administration with regard to records management and their archiving.

The CAU’s Working Groups that exist at the time of writing this post

Appraisal and Classification Working Group 1998-2017 This is the oldest group in the CAU and it was renamed in A Coruña, where it merged with the Classification Working Group that was created in Pamplona in 2014. It has identified and evaluated eighty-six series and has made a proposal for a framework of functional classification for the university archives. It is a tool designed for those archives that are starting or changing to a system based on records management and archiving.
Digital Administration 2002 This group was created in Valencia as the Working Group on Basic Requirements for Computer Applications for Archives. It changed its name in Alicante in 2009 to Working Group on Electronic Records Management. In Cádiz, in 2012, it was renamed as Electronic Records Management Policy, and it adopted its current name in Salamanca, in 2018. Amongst these works, the first CAU metadata scheme (2009) and the instructions on electronic mail management (2010) should be highlighted, the reports on digital archiving (the first in 2012 and the second in 2014) and the work in collaboration with the information technology (ICT) and communication sector (CRUE) for the preparation of an interoperability protocol for the European Supplement to the Student Title (SET) for the publication of the XML and xsd schema of metadata of records management (2014-2015).

It has a subgroup of work on the digital archive, created in Tarragona in 2016, basically to follow the standards and applications of the digital archive.

Strategic Plan and Review 2008 It was created in Castellón and renewed in Almagro in 2010. Its main task is the drafting and monitoring of the current strategic plan.
Guide to the archives of the universities 2010 This group was created in Almagro too and promotes having an updated guide to the archives of the universities in accordance with the ISDIAH standard of description.
Personal Archives 2010 This group created in Almagro was dissolved in 2013. The activity returned to Pamplona in 2014 and ended in 2019 again. It is worth noting the creation of the classification framework of the personal archives and the list of documentary types which worked on the creation of a type description database.
Historical Archival Holdings 2012 This group was created in Cádiz. It took on the task of organizing the Conference in Salamanca in 2018, and the Annual Conference of the Section of University Archives of the International Council of Archives, under the title Historical Records in University Archives, a Value Addedprecisely to highlight the importance of records with permanent value in the universities.
Communication 2015 This group was created in Zaragoza. Despite the fact that the functions have been assumed by the executive committee and the collaboration of two other members for this task, the first communication plan of the CAU was presented on this occasion, with a specific focus on strategic planning.
Open Linked Data in University Archives 2016 It was created in Tarragona. Its aim is to study the dissemination of the information contained in the records of the Spanish Universities’ Archives
Training 2016 This group was created in Tarragona. This group is responsible for the annual training day organised by the CAU.
ISO 30301 2017 This group was created in A Coruña. Its aim is to generate the necessary materials for the Spanish Universities that want to implement the management system for the records in accordance with ISO 30301. And it has been formed by universities that are interested in, or have already implemented, a management system for records.

The University Archives Conference, is the annual meeting point for all the archivists from the Spanish Universities attending and one of the indicators of the training axis of the CAU’s strategic plan since its inception. In this Conference, the Archivists of Spanish Universities are the place to share experiences and knowledge, while at the same time holding the plenary session where decisions are made that affect us as a professional group.

There are twenty-five universities that have hosted the Conference every year:


Where CAU’s Conferences have been celebrated these years

The Status Reports of the Spanish University Archives include the results obtained from the survey that the Spanish University Archives answer every two years. The collection and analysis of the survey data allows an assessment of the evolution of the university archives since 1994. The first survey is from 1999 and so on, until the last one, which is from 2018. The situation reports are presented at the plenary session held in the year immediately following the survey. This year 2020 there has been a change in the executive committee and the different members have already received news of new proposals in the organization of the CAU.

The CAU Strategic Plans approved since 2008 have been the instrument through which it has structured the planning of the management of CAU services. In the introduction to the latest approved plan it states: “the evolution of the university archive landscape and of records management in general has undergone major changes that we archivists are assuming with responsibility and commitment. For this reason, we consider the existence of four-year strategic plans to be very beneficial, allowing us to reflect on the current situation, the changes that have taken place and to have a clear vision of the changes that are expected in order to adapt and continue to grow as organisations of archival cooperation in the field of universities” (III CAU Strategic Plan, 2016: 2). The CAU has already approved and developed three strategic plans (2008-2019) and it is working on a fourth.


CAU’s Strategic Plan and Review Working Group in its annual report presentation. Tarragona, 2016. ©Montse Garriga

To conclude, the situation with the confinement resulting from the risk of contagion by Covidien 19 has forced the Spanish Universities to introduce working from home, including for Archivists. But this virus outbreak has not stopped the archivists and CAU works.

The Working groups continue towards their objectives and the Conference for 2020 is also being organized, this year at the University of Extremadura which has its headquarters in the city of Badajoz and with the theme: University Archives, responsibilities and competences, Horizon 2030.

Future is present in CRUE CAU reality!

<p>[1] PEÑA MONTES DE OCA, Carmen (2004). Diez años de la CAU: Balance y perspectivas. X Jornadas de Archiveros de Universidades. Valladolid, 2004.
[Access: 6.05.2020]

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s