Library of Congress reading room

Library of Congress reading room

The annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists concluded yesterday in Washington, DC.  This year’s meeting was a joint meeting with the Council of State Archivists and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators.  More than 2,300 attendees pre-registered, making it the largest meeting to date.

One of the sessions that I attended featured Scott Armstrong and other principals of the PROFS case, reflecting on how far we’ve come in the 25 years since that case was decided.  In addition to learning some interesting facts about the case involving emails in the Reagan White House, this session provided some food for thought about why we do the work we do.  Armstrong emphasized that information is the currency of decision-making, underscoring the importance of guaranteeing citizens access to the records of government.  Tom Blanton of the National Security Archive suggested that the National Archives and Records Administration doesn’t understand its own moral/shaming-and-naming/intervening power.  It’ll be interesting to watch whether this attitude wins out after the recent IRS records scandal.

Social media received a good deal of attention this year.  Geof Huth of the New York State Archives pointed out that records in the form of social media are especially valuable for demonstrating how the government wants to be seen.  He suggested that repositories should develop policies regarding content creation, appropriate use, and security.  Most importantly, he acknowledged that merely capturing social media records does not equate to preservation; in addition, at the end of the day, the point is to provide access to these records.

In a session about appraising government records, Sarah Koonts, the State Archivist of North Carolina, commented on one of the issues that I raised in previous posts.  She concluded that the main reason it’s hard to get people to conceptualize why it’s important to appraise electronic records is that most people assume it’s easier to just save it all.  She also suggested that researchers, citizens, and public interest groups need to be engaged about future uses of modern government records.  This can help shape both what is shaped and how it’s made accessible.