Luciana Duranti presented her presidential address at the 1999 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Until 1987, Luciana Duranti worked as a researcher in the professorial ranks of the Special School for Archivists and Librarians at the University of Rome, served as State Archivist in the State Archives of Rome, and was archivist for the National Research Council.  She moved to Canada in 1987 and has worked at the University of British Columbia, currently serving as Chair of the Master of Archival Studies at the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.  She has also served as director of InterPARES since 1998 — a multi-national and multi-disciplinary research project studying the long-term preservation of authentic electronic records.  A revised version of her speech was published in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of the American Archivist.

Like many of her predecessors, Duranti considered the archival literature in choosing  a topic for her presidential address.  She began her research with the premise that the archival mission was agreed upon and only the methods for accomplishing this mission caused friction and divide.  But the frequency with which she found the archival mission as a topic in the printed literature forced her to recognize the debate persisted.  In Duranti’s opinion, the role of archivists hasn’t changed since the French Revolution.  That conflict created an understanding that

“the preservation of archives derived from a duty of the state towards its citizens, and this new figure of the citoyen determined the rise of new responsibilities for the archivist, who became also a guardian of the rights of the people as evidenced by the records” (10).

Rather than focusing exclusively on the needs of the creator or on the needs of the researchers, Duranti asserted that “the unique role of the archivist is the preservation of the authentic recorded memory of society because of its destination to permanent public use” (11).  She listed three distinctions necessary to balance the needs of the creators and the researchers:

  1. The distinction between the archivist’s methods and the archival mission.  Duranti steadfastly argued that the archival mission is unchanging.  While methods may need to be changed to deal with contemporary records, “the archivist must still be all to all archives” (11).  She further elaborated that the archivist must embrace objectivity and ultimately serve the records.  She referenced Barbara Craig to underscore her point that “if we did not primarily serve the records, no other user could be served but the present and immediate one, and no program could be maintained other than a very short-term one” (12).
  2. The distinction between the archivist’s work and archival functions.  Duranti asserted that archival functions are such no matter whether they are being carried out by archivists or by allied professionals.  She acknowledged that some of the work of archivists is not archival in nature (e.g., managers, statisticians, conservators, database designers).  She also rejected the notion that records managers and archivists share no commonalities, suggesting that “records managers and archivists need the same body of knowledge to carry out all functions affecting the records, that is, all archival functions” (13).
  3. The distinction between professional issues and archival science issues.  Duranti contended that professional organizations such as SAA should focus on broad issues like “education, ethics, advocacy, recruitment to the field, or compensation” (13).  She identified as archival science issues “scientific concerns such as the concept of record, appraisal methods, or technical standards” (13).

Duranti concluded that embracing these three distinctions could serve to “avoid the many ambiguities and dichotomies that have hurt the Society in the past” and in so doing reduce the division and balkanizations that plagued SAA for decades (e.g., “manuscript curators versus government archivists”) (14).

 

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