Herbert E. Angel delivered his presidential address at the 1967 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  His address was published in the January 1968 issue of the American Archivist.  Angel had worked in the federal government since 1932 and was at the time of this address the Assistant Archivist for Federal Records Centers for the National Archives.  He went on to be Deputy Archivist for James B. Rhoads until his retirement in 1972 (and was apparently Acting Archivist of the U.S. for some period of time, because there is a July 1969 letter he signed over that designation).

Angel began his address with a brief etymology of the term archives, pointing back to the Greek word archeion, which carried the meaning of government house, and chronicling how the term has subsequently been applied to (5):

  • “records of a governmental agency”
  • “accumulated files”
  • the institution responsible for the accumulated files
  • the structure housing the accumulated files

Angel explained that the first records center was established in 1941.  The massive amount of records generated by World War Two necessitated the creation of such an organization, and Emmett J. Leahy and Robert H. Bahmer oversaw the endeavor.  Angel said that records centers were sometimes referred to as purgatories, while the British called them “limbo”; depot was another familiar (and less theologically-weighted) term.  Angel suggested that records centers were distinct from records storage depots in that they also provided most of the services found at an archives — “accessioning, preservation, arrangement and description, reference service, and disposal” (9).  At the same time, records centers also mimic many functions of the creating offices:

  • store records
  • “act as a sure memory, furnishing quick and accurate reference service from a huge data bank” (10)

Angel also identified as positive contributions the ability of records centers to advise on recordkeeping practices and to generate cost savings.  He compared records centers to blue chip stocks, “whose solid professional assests [sic] assure a steady income of security and service and a value that increases unfailingly through the years” (11).

Of the three parts of records management — creation, maintenance, disposition — Angel posited that records centers focus on disposition first, as the foundation for making progress in the creation and maintenance of records.  He then explained that there are three steps in the cycle of developing records centers:

  1. reluctance to condone their creation
  2. acceptance of their existence and apparent good work
  3. overreliance (i.e., when “some official, convinced that the archivist is gullible, attempts to foist off on that unsuspecting individual active records that are in daily use, perhaps even the official’s central files” (11)

Angel recognized that records centers are looking both forward and backward and suggested Janus as the patron of records centers, “not because they are two faced or have two heads, but because they face in two directions: toward the offices from which the records come and toward the archives or the wastepaper dealer to which the records eventually go” (5).  He concluded by challenging the apparent death knell of records centers, correctly predicting that records centers would not be replaced by “microfilm, computer, or some other form of miniaturization” and instead would continue “providing a documentation door at which the past and the future can meet” (12).

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