In October 1955, Morris L. Radoff delivered his presidential address at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in Nashville, Tennessee.  It was published in the American Archivist in January 1956.  Radoff was the 10th SAA president, serving from 1954-1955.  He was also the state archivist of Maryland.

The title of Radoff’s address gave clear evidence that the schism between archivists and records managers to which Wayne Grover alluded in his 1954 presidential address was still a hot issue.  He acknowledged the pattern of his predecessors to review the addresses of former presidents, suggesting it was “the need for a tradition, for a solid, unifying base, which makes us pore over the words of our past presidents”; Radoff concluded, “We are seeking there, it seems to me, the elusive something which does, or ought to, bind us together” (3).  Radoff briefly summarized Grover’s address and said he agreed with Grover in principle, though he found some of Grover’s evidence flawed.  Rather than asserting that archivists and records managers have “common interests,” as Grover argued, Radoff contended that the two professional groups “have only one interest; namely, the guardianship of records” (4).  Accordingly, Radoff suggested that professionals in both types of positions should share the same title; he suggested archivist “because the name is universal and meaningful; whereas records management is new, known only in this country, and not altogether understood even here” (4).

Radoff somewhat explained the differences between archivists and records managers by looking at the paths to the professions, with archivists coming from the realms of scholarship, law, and history while records managers tended to rise up the ranks of government positions.  But Radoff saw little point in the arbitrary division that was being drawn between the records management of active records and the archival care of inactive historical records.  Rather than sub-specializing, he believed:

“The records management specialist ought to know which records will have permanent value, the archivist ought to know, by the same token, what records should be created, and if any one of us does not know these things, then we should not be proud of that fact and we should not adopt titles, new or old, to justify our ignorance.  Instead, we should learn what we do not already know” (5).

And with an even more concise criticism of each side of this debate, Radoff concluded, “The archivist must not continue his stiff-necked aloofness, nor must the records management expert despise the deliberate approach of the archivist” (7).

One other reflection back to Grover’s address involved his assertion that archivists had seemingly lost influence since the founding of SAA.  Radoff conjectured that this lack of respect could be due to the lack of standardized education required for the archival profession.  He pointed back to the Bemis report, spearheaded by Samuel Flagg Bemis and published in the American Archivist in January 1939, suggesting that its design for archival education could still lend some desired professionalism and respect.  Radoff concluded:

“we should strive to give our profession the dignity, the unity, the opportunity for service that can come only from the mastery of a body of learning.  And this body of learning should by all means include the whole art and mystery of records.  This surely will bind us together” (9).

One final point of clarification: Grover spoke in the previous year about modifying the membership policy of SAA, and Radoff mentioned in his address that he supported the constitutional amendment.  The following changes were accepted at the October 1955 SAA meeting unanimously and without discussion:

3. Individual membership shall be open to those who are or have been engaged in the custody or control of records, archives, or historical manuscripts, or who, because of their interest in the field, wish to support the objectives of the Society.
4. Institutional membership shall be open to institutions or agencies that are concerned or substantially interested in the custody or control of records, archives, or historical manuscripts.  An institutional member shall be entitled to representation at all meetings of the Society by one delegate.  He may vote and hold office, but if he is also an individual member, he may not cast a second vote.
5. Members shall be enrolled upon receipt of their first payment of dues.

(The text of this amendment was printed in the July 1955 American Archivist; the summary of the business meetings was printed in the January 1956 issue.)

Advertisements