Wilfred I. Smith delivered his presidential address at the 1973 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in St. Louis, Missouri.  Smith was the Dominion Archivist of Canada from 1970 to 1984.  His address was published in the January 1974 issue of the American Archivist.

As a number of his predecessors had done, Smith reviewed the American Archivist as a means of gauging the history of SAA, and he identified a number of recurring themes:

  • desire for an SAA executive director
  • push for a comprehensive publications program
  • interest in developing SAA membership
  • focus on municipal archives
  • emphasis on regional associations
  • push for more effective SAA committees

But rather than viewing this as a negative indication of a static organization, Smith chose a more optimistic interpretation:

“Ours is a noble calling — the preservation of the original records of human experience — and it requires the full extent of our individual and collective resources and efforts if we are to fulfill our important responsibilities to past, present, and future generations” (4).

Smith went on to identify six opportunities for archivists:

  1. broader membership, including international members (who in 1973 comprised almost 20% of SAA rolls)
  2. learning how to handle diverse archival media and materials, including microfilm, machine-readable records, maps, plans, architectural drawings, audiovisual records, paintings, and film
  3. “Technological change imposes several responsibilities on the archivist: to keep aware of changes which have  an archival impact, to attempt to influence development in the interest of archives, and to adapt our procedures in confident utilization of new tools and information” (8).
  4. increasing utilization of archival materials via:
    • liberalization of access, including to public records
    • extending the range of users beyond traditional historians, including various ages of students
    • diffusion (i.e., documentary publication, microfilm distribution)
    • popularization among the general public through popular publications, exhibitions, and use of archival materials in television, film, and radio
  5. settling the debate over professionalization — “We will never settle such matters by academic discussion, and in fact the matter will not be resolved until we have reached the stage where we no longer need to discuss it” (11).  Smith pointed to the development of standards and of cooperation with other professions as key to reaching this stage.
  6. improving public relations, through better salesmanship, lobbying, and service for clientele and by encouraging the general public to realize the value of archives.  He asserted, “We deal with a precious commodity — information — and we must move towards integration with the main stream of society, instead of occupying an isolated position on its periphery” (13).

In the context of discussing increased utilization of archival materials, Smith identified several problems that might occur from increased utilization:

  • inadequate staffing to cover increased utilization
  • necessity of more security/protection of archival materials
  • need for better finding aids

Smith also acknowledge that some types of archives were being neglected:

  • municipal
  • sciences
  • business
  • urban
  • labour
  • artistic and cultural
  • “‘non-elite’ archives — records of ethnic groups, of average rather than distinguished individuals and of so-called anti-establishment groups and activities” (10)

In order to address this neglect, Smith suggested a national inventory along with an “active, comprehensive, and systematic acquisition program by every archives” (10).

Smith concluded with a challenge to his listeners:

“If we are to continue to be effective in the present and future, we must be alert,
informed, and adaptable, for we can expect major and accelerating change to be a normal aspect of our professional lives.  Each of us, in the great variety of institutions which we represent, should face the future with confidence and a determination to use all available means to extend the influence, area of service, and role in society of archives, to an extent that has not even been contemplated in the past” (14).

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