Here’s the actual presidential address from the 1982 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) that was held in Boston, Massachusetts.  Edward Weldon worked for many years for the National Archives and also served as the State Archivist of New York (1975-1980) and the Director of the Georgia Department of Archives and History (1982-2000).  His address was published in the Spring 1983 issue of the American Archivist.

Weldon acknowledged that archivists are reticent to embrace change:

“We are a conservative lot, as we should be; but in the occupational concern with gaining stability and control, we often forget that the most constant condition in our lives is change” (126).

So he focused on three changes affecting archivists:

  1. The baby boom generation was creating more records as well as more users.  The social change of this era created a glut of paperwork — especially case files that document education, military service, employment, pensions, medical care, and criminal cases.  Weldon went into great detail about the demographics of U.S. society, describing it as an “aging, increasingly female, better-educated population” (128).  He suggested these characteristics could possibly influence archives in numerous ways:
    • greater interest in continuing education would lead people to archives for primary source materials
    • higher incidence of divorce and adoption would produce more court records
    • greater mobility of the U.S. population might lead to more research into genetic/health histories
    • greater emphasis on privacy
  2. Government was changing — both in its structure and in people’s attitudes towards it.  Weldon was unequivocal in asserting that “Records, and ultimately that portion of them of lasting value, are like government: of, by, and for the people” (128).  He pointed to the creation of “new quasi-governmental,
    multi-jurisdictional arrangements designed to accommodate regional
    needs” — such as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (129).  He also identified an increasing practice of municipalities to sell tax write-offs to private investors (aka “safe harbor” tax leasing schemes).  And although outsourcing wasn’t a 1980s term, Weldon acknowledged that governments were increasingly contacting with private vendors to provide public services.  He asserted that these changes in governmental structure were making it more difficult to gather and access the public record.
  3. The “electronic information revolution” was changing how information was created and shared.  Weldon advocated for early archival intervention in the record creation process and hoped dealing with this change could help bring archivists, records managers, and library and information specialists back together.

Weldon identified several primary challenges for archivists:

  1. Archivists “need to adjust our principles, practices, and language to changed circumstances, modifying old habits of mind to fit new realities” (126).
  2. With archives also embracing the outsourcing principle, Weldon suggested a growing challenge for archivists would be “the psychic one of finding job satisfaction in solving the new archival management problems rather than in dealing first-hand with researchers or historical materials” (130).
  3. The changing nature of society and work in the United States was making the job of appraisal increasingly difficult: “To select and preserve that tiny portion of the record that will accurately convey to succeeding generations this complex, pluralistic, changing world is an obligation and indeed a challenge to us” (130).
  4. The shift from an industrial to a service economy was making it at the same time more difficult and more imperative for archives to relate “in specific, measurable terms the costs and the benefits of archival decisions, activities, and services” (131).

Weldon included a synopsis of some of the relevant literature that was addressing these changes as well as identifications of some of the SAA committees and task forces alongside other groups that were trying to do their part.  He concluded with a challenge of his own:

“We archivists have to be historians in our own time. . . .  We are always reminding researchers that the past is prologue and that if they do not consult archives, their view of the past will be blurred.  It would be ironic indeed if archivists did not heed our own cliché and try to discover the larger context in which records today are being created and in which our principles and practices are shaped” (134).

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