Philip P. Mason delivered his presidential address at the 1971 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in San Francisco, California.  His address was published in the January 1972 issue of the American Archivist.  In 1960, Mason became the founding director of the Archives of Labor History at Wayne State University, which was renamed the Walter P. Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs in 1975.  Mason also oversaw the establishment of the University Archives in 1958 and began an archival administration degree program at Wayne State University in 1961.

Mason mentioned that he read through SAA presidential addresses of the previous 20 years in order to choose his theme, and his title leaves little room for misinterpretation.  Where prior presidents had hinted at disagreement and dissension among the ranks, he point blank acknowledged the complaints of members.  At the same time, Mason also asserted that SAA had undergone positive changes in the previous 10 years, including:

  • a doubling in membership
  • a more “responsive, efficient, and productive” committee system (6)
  • an expanded annual meeting
  • increased studies and publications
  • development of training programs

Yet Mason also recognized there were demands from the SAA membership for more improvement, such as:

  • more services
  • “new and innovative programs” (7)
  • more ways for members to get involved in SAA

He mentioned one source of his information as the SAA membership survey (a successor to the study done by Ernst Posner; this one was summarized by Frank Evans and Robert Warner in the April 1971 issue of the American Archivist).  He reported these critiques of SAA by its members:

“The common complaint was that the Society did not meet the professional needs of its members; that its programs were aimed at the larger archival institutions; that the Society’s publication program was inadequate; and that the functions of the governing body of the Society, notably the designation of awards recipients, Fellows, and many committee assignments, were controlled by a small clique of members representing only the larger archival institutions” (9).

Mason listed several tasks he believed SAA needed to accomplish:

  1. inventory archival materials in the U.S. and Canada — in order to determine gaps in these collections
  2. emphasize the preservation of “contemporary public records,” especially at the local level (8)

The contemporary movements for civil rights, workers’ rights, and women’s rights undoubtedly influenced his fixation on collection policies, in an attempt to preserve records of these movements while they still survived.  As for solving the more internal problems of SAA, Mason focused on one particular suggestion that had been received by the Committee for the 1970’s — creating a full-time paid position of SAA executive director.  (Keep in mind, this suggestion had been in the mix at least since 1963, when Leon deValinger proposed it in his presidential address.)  He spent quite a bit of time explaining why volunteer work was not sufficient and why nesting the position within an archival institution was problematic.  This goal was finally accomplished in 1974.

If the turmoils and infighting of the 1960s and 1970s are getting old, come back next week for a review of the address entitled “The Joys of Being an Archivist.”

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