Clifford K. Shipton delivered his presidential address at the October 1968 meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in Ottawa, Canada.  This was the first time the SAA annual meeting was held outside the United States.  His address was published in the January 1969 issue of the American Archivist.  Shipton was Custodian of the Harvard University Archives from 1938-1969 as well as editor of the Sibley Publications of the Massachusetts Historical Society for many decades (authoring such works as Sibley’s Harvard Graduates) and Librarian and Director of the American Antiquarian Society from 1940-1967.

Given my personal interest in delving into how access is provided to archival holdings, I was intrigued by the title of Shipton’s address.  He began with an analysis of the obligation of archivists to secure and make available records needed by historians.  He also compared the relative speed with which American archives usually provided service to researchers, as opposed to the slowness of European archives.  According to this address, providing service to archival materials in this era primarily meant producing microfilm — at a cost of $50 a reel! (an amount that would have the buying power of $346.33 in 2015, according to an inflation calculator).

Shipton went on to recount the mistakes and inefficiencies of many microfilm departments in archives, estimating that about a third of the thousands of reels of microfilm he ordered over the years had to be destroyed due to a variety of problems:

  • duplicated orders because an original order was lost, but after Shipton submitted a new order, the original order was then found and also filled
  • incorrect materials filmed because the institution substituted the closest related item for the “ghost” (i.e., item believed to be but not actually held in the collection) requested by Shipton (7)
  • carelessness by camera operators
  • filming more materials than specifically requested by Shipton

Shipton did not have much to offer in the way of solutions for these inefficiencies.  He acknowledged that it would be untenable to charge researchers more for the service, which would be necessary if quality assurance were to be carried out.  Ultimately, he suggested the camera operators needed to be more attentive to detail.  He also proposed a method of tracking orders within the archive.

 

The 1969 SAA annual meeting took place in Madison, Wisconsin, but president H.G. Jones did not deliver a standard presidential address, so next week I will review the presidential address delivered by Herman Kahn at the 1970 SAA annual meeting.  According to the summation of the 1969 meeting in the January 1970 American Archivist, Jones explained why he had no formal address and “presented remarks that he characterized as a ‘family conversation around the dinner table’ for ‘soul-searching’ purposes” (73).

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