In October 1964, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) met in Austin, Texas, and outgoing president Everett O. Alldredge delivered his address.  He self-identified as the “first president whose background has been more in records management than archival management” (13).  A 2008 letter from the National Personnel Records Center labelled Alldredge “Early NARA Luminary – Father of Records Management.”  He helped begin the first full-scale records management program for the federal government, including establishing records centers around the country.  At the time of this address, he was the Assistant Archivist for Records Management at the National Archives and Records Service.  It was published in the January 1965 issue of the American Archivist.

Alldredge’s title for his address leaves little to the imagination.  While many presidents had chosen to use their farewell address to look backward, he focused resolutely on what was yet to be accomplished.  He summed up his viewpoint: “So far events have completely controlled us.  It is time for us to try to control events” (12).  His initial recommendations for SAA included:

  • developing a more broad-based membership
  • offering 1-day symposia, especially targeted at new professionals
  • developing “a professionally significant project capable of completion in at least 2 years” for each SAA committee, such as:
    • standards for arrangement and description of private papers
    • developing common definitions for archival terms
    • standards on archival exhibits
    • list of scientific archives
    • recommendations for business archives
    • standards for church archives
    • guide for university archives
    • arranging a meeting of the International Council on Archives in the U.S.
    • fire protection standards
    • theory about appropriate usage of manpower in archives

Alldredge attributed much of the lack of “doctrine” and publications within the archival community to the status of archivists as an emerging profession.  But he challenged his listeners to embrace the four essential attributes of professional behavior, as defined by Bernard Barber:

  1. “a high degree of generalized and systematic knowledge”
  2. “primary orientation to the community interest rather than to individual self-interest”
  3. “a high degree of self-control of behavior through codes of ethics internalized in the process of work socialization and through voluntary associations organized and operated by the work specialists themselves”
  4. “a system of rewards (monetary and honorary) that is primarily a set of symbols of work achievement and thus ends in themselves, not means to some end of individual self-interest” (10)

Alldredge came back near the end of his address to identify three principal shortcomings of the archival profession (12):

  1. not enough attention to the “subprofessional”
  2. not enough professionally trained people as heads of archives
  3. not enough professionals schools for appropriate training

Regarding the contemporary debate about the meaning of life and the meaning of history, Alldredge shared this analysis about how it related to archival work:

“one’s philosophy of history determines one’s definition of history, and one’s definition of history controls what documentation one saves.  Most archivists have something to say about what shall be saved” (15).

Alldredge concluded his address with a story about touring the partly completed Georgia state archives building with Mary Givens Bryan.  In recognition of her desire to have a defense of archives carved onto its walls, he offered this poem:

What are Archives?

Quarry and brickyard and lumber pile

from which the researchers build edifices

that educate the statesman and the citizen

and illuminate the common man’s story.

The quiver in which the historian

finds those arrows of truth

that shoot down myths and maim errors.

Aladdin’s lamp that when skillfully rubbed

calls forth the genie of yesteryear —

the yesteryear that explains today

and is the prologue to tomorrow.

The enduring documentation of deeds and decisions

that provide an enduring memory

forever available, valuable, and useful” (16).

Too bad Alldredge can’t submit this to one of current SAA president Kathleen Roe’s Year of Living Dangerously for Archives challenges!

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