Frank B. Evans delivered his presidential address at the 1989 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in St. Louis, Missouri.  He had already had a very distinguished career in the archival profession by this point, having worked in the Pennsylvania State Archives (1958-1961) and served as state archivist (1961-1963) before joining the staff of the National Archives.  He took extended leave from NARA to work for UNESCO as programme specialist and senior officer responsible for the development and implementation of a worldwide program of archival development (1976-1984).  His address was published in the Winter 1990 issue of the American Archivist.

After teaching history for many years, it was only while he was working in the Pennsylvania State Archives that Evans decided to make archival work his profession, and he chose to use his presidential address as an opportunity to reflect on the state of the profession and the SAA over those 30 years.  He described the four-week Institute on the Preservation and Administration of Archives (which he first attended and then oversaw), which emphasized institutional records:

“The records of institutions, we were taught, enabled them to function despite changes in personnel; the records provided an identity, served as a collective memory, and greatly facilitated the transmission of information and knowledge and culture across space and time” (13).

Evans explained that government records, in particular, not only held “memorial, cultural, research, and reference value” but also are “essential to ensure responsive and responsible government” (14).  He asserted that this focus on institutional records filtered through all of the archival teaching at the Institute, influencing discussions on administrative histories, arrangement and description, authenticity, and provenance, for example.

Evans contended that the European concept of archives was modified by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) due to the necessity of dealing with the massive quantities of modern governmental records.  He identified the contributions of NARA as collective appraisal, quicker accessioning, and new preservation techniques — including “vacuum fumigation, deacidication, thermoplastic lamination, temperature and humidity control, acid neutral folders and containers, smoke detection devices, and sprinkler systems” (14).  NARA also developed collective arrangement and description techniques and promoted records management.

Evans believed 1959 was an era of a smaller and more coherent SAA, though he admitted our own internal documentation has not been great over the years.  He analyzed the committees of SAA to provide some understanding of the focuses and priorities of the membership over time.  By 1974 — conveniently both the halfway point in this personal perspective and the year when Evans participated in an SAA retrospective plenary session  — SAA included committees “on the archives of science, on urban archives, oral history, machine-readable records, reference and access, techniques for the control and description of archives and manuscripts, and on the status of women in the profession” (16).  For his part in this session, Evans identified a morphing of the definition of archives from the first to the second generation in the United States.  The term archives originally connoted “noncurrent institutional records of continuing value” as received by an archival agency from a parent institution (17) .  But Evans contended that archives had increasingly become collectors rather than passive receivers and had also begun promoting access and developing new services and programs.  And although he identified more training opportunities in this second generation era, Evans asserted that it was still not sufficient in quantity and was too rudimentary in nature.

Evans’ work with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) provided him with an even greater appreciation of the importance of government records.  He quoted from the International Law Commission of the General Assembly of the United Nations:

“‘Archives, jealously preserved, are the essential instrument for the administration of a community.  They both record the management of state affairs and enable them to be carried on'” (18).

Evans cited data from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission indicating the number of U.S. archives had grown over those 30 years, but SAA membership had not grown proportionately.  He contended that shifts in SAA membership occurred as records managers created their own organizations and as local/state/regional organizations became more prominent.  He pointed to numerous systematic planning efforts by SAA, including the Committee on the 1970s and the Task Force on Goals and Priorities, and identified that these efforts had placed on the agenda a certification program for archival education programs and the development of standards and guidelines for functions activities relating to archives and manuscripts.

Evans concluded his address by identifying his own concerns and suggestions for the archival profession moving forward:

  1. He warned that archives were verging into the territory of special libraries and museums.  “It seems to me that in dignifying ephemera and memorabilia as archives we trivialize a noble profession, and may risk having archives themselves eventually regarded as being ephemeral” (20).
  2. He warned against throwing out archival theories and practices merely due to age: “change does not constitute progress when it involves the rejection of theory and practice that have proved their value and that are of continuing relevance” (20).
  3. He challenged archival repositories to focus not only on user studies but also to consider the nonusers — and through research materials or methods course to try to pull more of those potential users into the archives to do research.
  4. He asserted that archival agencies should be more useful to their parent institutions — “I urge that we seek opportunities to use the institution’s own records in our custody to provide to its operating officials the background
    information and precedents they need to deal with current problems and for decision-making, to protect and promote the institution’s rights and interests, and to ensure continuity and consistency in administration and operations. . .” (20).
  5. He contended that good records management (i.e., records retention and disposition schedules) is not only vital but also qualifies as a successful documentation strategy.
  6. He warned that the focus on electronic records would likely be to the detriment of audio-visual records, which also need often costly interventions to guarantee their preservation.
  7. He asserted that the faculty of university archival programs need to be filled with the graduates of the best programs.
  8. He warned of “professional fragmentation” and urged that “as a profession we should speak with one voice if we hope to be heard and to be heeded” (21).

Despite the enumeration of these concerns, he expressed confidence in SAA moving forward and offered his analysis of why the archival profession is a noble one:

“In a sense, the keeping of archives was organized society’s first collective act of faith—faith in itself and in its future to which it bequeathed the record of its experience and the knowledge it had gained through that experience.  Through our profession we continue to renew and strengthen that act of faith, to augment and transmit mankind’s inheritance to our successors” (21).