I Just want to set the World On Fire with Records (A Law and Ethics Case Study)

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to describe the ethical considerations given a particular situation.
  • Students will be able to explain their course of actions and potential consequences of those actions.


You’re a reference archivist at an institution that collects political paper collections. A journalist from a gossip website has asked to see portions of a collection of a recently retired Senator. This part of the collection has been sealed for ten years according to the deed of gift. Keep in mind these are not the official records of the senate, but the personal papers/office records of the senator. This doesn’t mean that there are not materials that could be deemed federal records or state secrets. The collection was minimally processed due to it restrictions, and this former Senator is embroiled in a civil suit with a former staffer about sexual misconduct.


  • What issues are at play here?
  • How would you go about dealing with the issue of access?
  • What if the journalist threaten to make a FIOA or Open Records request?
  • Does the journalist employer factor into your decisions?
  • How would you handle a discovery request related to the civil suit?

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