In her October 1960 presidential address at the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting in Boston, Mary Givens Bryan looked both forward and backward.  Long before the International Council on Archives began publishing a journal entitled Janus and long before Richard Pearce-Moses suggested Janus as the appropriate patron of archivists, Bryan used her address to evaluate how far archivists had come in the 27 years of her professional career and what new frontiers archivists needed to chart.  She spent her career working her way up in the Georgia Department of Archives and History, serving as Director and State Archivist from 1951 to her death in 1964.  Her address was published in the January 1961 issue of the American Archivist.

Bryan preceded by three years Bob Dylan’s writing of the protest song “The Times They Are a-Changin’.”  While she was not trying to pen a protest song, she did reflect on what was happening within and without the archival community and challenged her SAA listeners to act accordingly.  She noted that during her year as SAA president, she read the 8,440 pages of the American Archivist printed to date, and she pointed to wisdom of the addresses of several of her predecessors.  The two biggest external changes on which Bryan focused were the burgeoning space race and the development of computing devices.  (By this point, numerous satellites had been launched by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and a probe had reached the moon.  Within 6 months, the first person would orbit the Earth.)  She wished to see the archival community prepare itself — whether by working with the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization  to identify essential records that warranted protection in case of atomic warfare or by working to learn about the new formats on which records were being created:

“not only textual but in the form of motion pictures, sound recordings, punch and aperture cards, video or magnetic tapes, electrostatic prints, electronic computations, and many more” (9)

She also predicted new technologies, such as “mechanized systems for searching, correlating, and synthesizing recorded knowledge” (6).

I can’t pretend that Bryan was entirely prescient — after all, she did suggest that microfilm readers would become common fixtures in American homes.  But I do appreciate her efforts to evaluate what had been accomplished and what was left to do.  Throughout, Bryan weaves in comments about the ongoing tug-of-war between archivists and records managers, urging a path of common goals.  She suggested the more pertinent divide was between specialists and generalists.  She asserted, “A Society composed only of specialists would soon collapse, for nobody would be left with the overall view — nobody who could see the woods as well as the trees” (7).  She went on to suggest, “What we need in our Society is more specialists who are capable of functioning as generalists” (7).  Bryan seemed concerned that the rapid pace of change would cause people’s specialized skills to become rapidly antiquated, whereas broad training could be more adaptively applied.

Bryan brought this line of thought back to the SAA, suggesting that its committees needed not to be satisfied with focusing on their narrow interests and duties but instead should use those positions “to explore, to ferret out, and to pass on to the rest of us — and particularly our newer members — the information and advice they and we are seeking” (8).  She concluded by challenging state archives to develop stronger local records programs, believing that “Ours is the responsibility for seeing that the best of Americana is preserved for generations to come after us, and that the records they will need are intact” (10).

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