In October 1965, the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held its annual meeting in New York City.  William Kaye Lamb delivered his presidential address, which was published in the American Archivist in January 1966.  Lamb was the first SAA president hailing from outside the United States; he was appointed the Dominion Archivist of Canada in 1948 and served in this position until 1969.  He was also instrumental in creating the National Library of Canada, serving as National Librarian of Canada from 1953-1967.  He helped develop the Public Archives of Canada and led the construction of a National Archives, which opened in 1967.

Lamb began his address by identifying three misconceptions or “occupational hazards” of archivists:

  1. people assume archivists “are familiar with all past events since creation, down to the last detail of local or family history” (3)
  2. people assume “archivists have no concern with the present — or at least they are not troubled with matters of any very immediate or pressing concern” (3)
  3. archivists themselves have been so engrossed in their own jobs that they haven’t taken notice of the changes to the profession over the last three decades

Lamb identified this third hazard as the most serious danger and went on to identify two major changes in recent archival practice that might have been overlooked:

  1. “the archivist has ceased to be primarily a custodian — a caretaker — and has become a gatherer of records and manuscripts” (4)
  2. The growth of modern government forced archivists to become more involved in records management to deal with two problems:
    • cutting down on unnecessary records and handling the remainder “efficiently and economically” (5)
    • making necessary decisions about records disposal

Lamb highlighted disposal as the most difficult problem in records management because  it “involves nothing less than an attempt to judge the future needs of scholars.”  He went on to pinpoint the complication of trying to retain records that may need to be consulted in future years for reasons very different than their active use, so the archivist “must have perceived their potential value and ensured their preservation far in advance” (6).

Going back to the importance of records management, Lamb listed two major ways that records managers positively influenced archives:

  1. “Adequate selection and preservation are by-products of good records management.”
  2. “records managers have been of great assistance in establishing the vital point that adequate archival and records services have practical value and can make it possible for a government to function both more efficiently and more cheaply” (8).

Considering his classic tome Modern Archives was first published in 1956, I’ve been interested to note that T.R. Schellenberg has not received much attention  from the SAA presidents, but his book The Management of Archives did receive mention by Lamb.  In his final section on the future of archives, Lamb pointed to Schellenberg’s assertion that “a profession should represent systematized and widely accepted principles and techniques in its field of activity” (8).  He suggested three developments that could help to accomplish this professionalization of archives work:

  1. manuals created by SAA and the American Association for State and Local History that would help develop standards
  2. agreeing on a standard terminology for archives work
  3. recognizing the necessity of having trained archivists to work with records and manuscripts

Just as with Everett Alldredge a year earlier, Lamb concluded with a compelling and succinct summation of the value of archives:

“We belong to a dynamic and developing profession that, amongst other things, is charged with the critical responsibility of determining, to a great extent, the documentation relating to the present and the past that will be available to scholars in the future” (10).

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