H. Thomas Hickerson delivered his presidential address at the 2000 meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Denver, Colorado.  Hickerson spent many years at Cornell University, serving in the Department of Manuscript and University Archives as Supervisor of Technical Operations (1974-1979) and as Department Chair (1979-1991).  He oversaw the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (1992-1998) and was the founding director of the Cornell Institute for Digital Collections.  He finished his time at Cornell as the Associate University Librarian for Information Technologies and Special Collections in the Cornell University Library.  Hickerson is currently the Vice-Provost (Libraries and Cultural Resources) and University Librarian at the University of Calgary.  His address was published in the Spring/Summer 2001 issue of the American Archivist.

Hickerson recognized the challenges facing the archival profession in the 21st century and used his presidential address to list those he considered to be the most daunting.  He dedicated his address to Shonnie Finnegan in appreciation of her professional support over the years.

  1. Managing the Identification, Appraisal, Retention, Preservation, and Provision of Support for the Use of Documents Generated in Electronic Form
    • Hickerson certainly made a name for himself in electronic records management, and he emphasized this challenge for two reasons — as a “professional mandate” but also to demonstrate leadership that would enable archivists to continue collecting and preserving “the records of today and tomorrow” (7).
    • In order to demonstrate this relevance, he suggested archivists should collaborate with other information management professionals, even if it meant adjusting some archival practices such as the process of appraisal.
  2. Devoting Greater Resources to Non-textual Holdings
    • Hickerson acknowledged that archivists had been aware of their text-centric approach to collecting for decades but argued that little had been done to address the problem.  He asserted that archivists had been “largely ignoring the long oral tradition in all societies, and the importance of art, architecture, music, ritual, dance, theater, and other non-textual and non-linear means of expression and recording” (8).
    • He went so far as to suggest half of repository resources should be devoted to non-textual materials.
  3. Recognizing that Records are Global
    • Hickerson challenged archivists to avoid “cultural and nationalistic bias” (9).
    • He pointed to the national standards being developed in information management and suggested SAA should band with the International Council on Archives to create a multinational digital archives.
  4. Devising New Methods for Describing and Providing User Access to the Ever-expanding Volume of Contemporary Records in All Formats
    • Hickerson contended that traditional description methods — even including EAD and federated searches of finding aids — were inadequate “to provide comprehensive intellectual control of and access to their existing holdings” (9).
    • For electronic records, he pointed to the almost 20-year-old suggestion of Margaret Hedstrom and David Bearman that metadata ingested with the records could also serve to describe the records without archivist intervention.
    • He hoped that the approaches to describing electronic records could also be adapted for paper holdings to help address the backlog.
  5. Making Our Holdings More Accessible to and Usable by Our Core Constituencies and Broadening Use by Expanded Audiences
    • Hickerson challenged archives to improve service to “core constituencies” while also developing “secondary audiences” (11).
    • He commented that user studies demonstrate provenance-based organization of archival collections of images leads to searches that fail to recall sufficient relevant images for the users.
    • He suggested networked reference service, online advertisements, multi-institutional portals, and more conversions to digital format — even if it required partnering with for-profit entities.
  6. Expanding the Scope of Our Collection Development Priorities
    • Hickerson chronicled the changing focuses of collection development, including women, minorities, and other social and organizational records vital for the study of social history, along with records documenting sexuality and sexual politics.
    • He suggested population and environmental studies will necessitate different types of records, such as GIS data.
  7. Generating More Basic and Applied Research on Archival Aspects of Information Management
    • Hickerson cited Edie Hedlin’s presidential address due to her call for resources to support research and suggested some progress had been made in the intervening years.
    • He posited that working “to better associate archival priorities with national issues presently drawing significant attention” — such as security, privacy, authenticity, etc. — should make them more understandable and supportable (13).  He did recognize that this approach would likely result in more of this research being conducted outside of the archival realm.
  8. Strengthening Our National Archival Organization
    • Hickerson pointed to Nicholas Burckel’s presidential address for evidence of changes to SAA over the years.  He contended that SAA needs to be a dynamic organization so there can be new ideas and perspectives.
    • He suggested the importance of recruiting young archivists alongside retaining senior archivists who can “offer leadership, professional
      accomplishment, dedication, and understanding” (15).
  9. Augmenting the Range of Skills, Knowledge, and Resources Engaged in the Archival Enterprise
    • Once again, Hickerson suggested looking outside the archival world for solutions.  He asserted non-archivists such as technologists, Web designers, fundraisers, records managers, etc., all have important contributions to make to the archival endeavor.
    • He emphasized the importance of broad public support (including “laws that facilitate the fulfillment of archival responsibilities”), alliances with other like-minded organizations, technological infrastructure, and career-long learning, especially in the realm of IT (15).
  10. Maintaining the Credibility of Our Role as Respected Evidentiary Authorities and as Trusted Guarantors of Society’s Interests, Today and in the Future
    • Hickerson concluded, “We need to take the necessary steps to sustain our credibility by maintaining a high level of professionalism, by fulfilling our commitments, and by honoring our profession” (16).