Leon J. Stout delivered his presidential address at the 2001 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists held in Washington, D.C.  He was the university archivist at Penn State from 1974-2001 and retired from the institution in 2007 as the Head of Public Services and Outreach for the Eberly Family Special Collections Library.  As they did for William Maher a few years prior, the American Archivist published Stout’s incoming address alongside his presidential address, so I also include both here.  They were published in the Spring/Summer 2002 issue.

Stout’s incoming presidential address questioned whether archives would make the effort to reimagine themselves in the same way as museums had done around the turn of the century.  He focused on three areas of controversy:

  1. Function.  Stout pointed to the 1997 statement on “Archival Roles for the New Millennium” as evidence that the basic mission of archives was unchanging.  He suggested that archives “provide the raw materials for people to construct their own stories” and “facilitate the work of research” (12).  When archives engage in outreach, he contended it is purely for the purpose of attracting users to do their own research, not with the intent of crafting our own stories from the records.  He catalogued several techniques being used by archives to generate interest from new users but stated unequivocally “we’ll never be a tourist attraction as long as we hold to our core mission.  There’s no question we have ‘neat stuff’ that people like to see, but the more we emphasize its display and attractiveness to visitors, the less right we have to put the word ‘archives’ on the door” (13).
  2. Providing service to remote users.  Stout was somewhat critical of early forays by archives onto the Internet that primarily consisted of “on-line brochures, photo exhibits and historical information, the beginning of access to collections through on-line finding aids, and the beginnings of collections of actual scanned images of archival records” (14).  He recognized the problems that would be presented by digital preservation and by the need for more advanced finding aids to provide adequate access to digital objects.  He also pointed out that remote usage of archives stands to sacrifice the possibility of “serendipitous discovery” as well as the benefit of the “‘expert system'” otherwise known as the archivist (15).  Yet he concluded that the Internet would in fact broaden the function of archives and certainly the mechanisms by which archives deliver their services, for “while the need for archives to guarantee our rights and hold our government accountable to its citizenry doesn’t diminish, the cultural uses of archives will continually increase—and it’s via the Web that people will seek that information” (15).
  3. Interacting with documented communities.  Stout contended that archives are much better at looking to advisory groups of users than at considering the viewpoints of records creators.

Stout’s outgoing presidential address based its title on John Fleckner’s 1990 presidential address.  While his address the previous year had certainly incorporated the impact of electronic records on archives, he focused much more intently in this address, coining the term “cyberarchivist” and suggesting that he’d been “a missionary for computer use and addressing the challenge of electronic records” (18).  He contended that while the core functions of archives would not change, the sources of future records would most likely be technological ones.  And due to the mutability of electronic records, he explained that “if the archivist and the archival process are not part of the normal operating procedures for electronic records in the institution, there will be severe difficulties in preserving an archival record” (20).

He recognized that collaboration with IT professionals will be significant in preserving electronic records, but he also challenged archivists to stretch our own learning and become cyberarchivists who not only are comfortable operating archives in a computer world but can manipulate software and hardware ourselves and can understand how technology impacts people’s creation of records as well as their use of archives.  In conclusion, he expanded on Fleckner’s definition of the enduring values of the archival profession to include service, emphasizing that archivists need to “demonstrate to funders and users alike our competency and usefulness” (23).

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