Richard Pearce-Moses delivered his presidential address at the 2006 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Washington, D.C.  During his archival career, Pearce-Moses worked as a Local Records Management Consultant for the Texas State Library, as Documentary Collections Archivist and Automation Coordinator for the Heard Museum, and as Curator of Photographs at the Arizona State University Libraries.  He also worked for nearly twelve years at the Arizona State Library and Archives — as Director of Digital Government Information, Coordinator of the Cultural Inventory Project, and lastly Deputy Director for Technology and Information Resources.  Finally, he was the first director of the Master of Archival Studies program at Clayton State University (2010-15).  This address was published in the Spring/Summer 2007 issue of the American Archivist.

Pearce-Moses used his presidential address to challenge archivists to focus on the future.  Like Herbert Angel in his 1967 presidential address, Pearce-Moses referenced Janus, the Roman god who faces both forward and backward — suggesting he is the “perfect patron of archivists” (13).  While archivists have an established history of protecting the past, Pearce-Moses asserted the core reason for this work is to make these records available in the future.

He acknowledged some of the changes brought on by new digital technologies, such as shorter planning horizons and greater expectations for access to information.  He considered three scenarios for what could happen to archives in the future:

  1. Status Quo.  This scenario was quickly dismissed by Pearce-Moses because of its implausibility.  The rapidly changing formats of records guarantee that things cannot stay the same.
  2. Worst-Case.  This scenario will come true if archivists don’t learn the skills necessary for the digital era.  Pearce-Moses noticed that increasingly business people involved in the oversight of electronic records are highly regarded while those caring for records rarely rise to the top of the organizational hierarchy.  Therefore, if archivists don’t embrace the digital era, his view of the future is that “records of enduring value are lost and poorly organized.  Often people cannot find the records they need, and if they do, those records are hard to use, understand, or trust. We will have lost our social memory” (16).
  3. Best-Case.  The rosy picture of the future depicts archives as critical institutions that preserve key records, providing easy access to them along with expert assistance.

Pearce-Moses suggested a number of steps necessary to make the best-case scenario a reality — most importantly, archivists must learn new skills to become comfortable with digital records.

  • Archivists should be as knowledgeable about digital records as we are about paper records.
  • Archivists must “appreciate that the fundamental nature of records has changed in the digital environment” (17).  The work that has been done on this front in the theoretical world needs to be translated into practical knowledge.
  • “Work with electronic records will not be a job for specialists as the majority of records will be digital” (18).  (Based on current job postings, I’m not sure we’ve reached this point of familiarity and flexibility yet in the archival world.)
  • Archivists must develop the soft skills necessary to work with people who work in the technological world.
  • Archivists need to think strategically — “We cannot predict the future, but we can influence it and confront it in more informed ways” (19).
  • We need trend spotters who can identify changes that will impact archives.
  • We need embracers who are willing and able to incorporate new technologies into archival work.
  • We need planners and evaluators to make sure archives’ use of technology ultimately suits the needs of the patrons.

In addition to these skills, Pearce-Moses listed some attitudes that are crucial for crossing this threshold into the digital world — many of which overlap with the skills already mentioned:

  • early adopters
  • risk takers
  • problem solvers
  • creativity
  • initiative/drive
  • reality — “Let us celebrate the reality of what we can accomplished, rather than bemoan the dream we did not fully realize” (20).

Finally, Pearce-Moses defined a set of core principles and goals that should guide the work of archivists (20-21):

  • “Archivists select and keep records that have enduring value as reliable
    memories of the past.”
  • “We organize our collections so that the information in the records can
    be found and interpreted in proper context.”
  • “We help people use and understand those records.”
  • “We protect records from degradation, ensuring that they remain accessible
    over time.”
  • “Archivists know that ‘what is past is prologue,’ that history informs and
    influences the future.”
  • “We understand the importance of authenticity and trustworthiness.”
  • “We are driven by knowledge that records play a key role in holding
    people and organizations accountable.”

Pearce-Moses concluded with this challenge to archivists:

“Ultimately, to thrive in this world, to realize the best-case scenario, we need
the spirit and attitudes of pioneers.  We need the courage and—maybe more
important—the desire to step outside our comfort zones.  We need the willingness to leave what is comfortable and familiar and to pass through the doorway
to the unknown.  If we learn to be comfortable taking risks, we can take a
leading role on the digital frontier.  We can be pioneers—first through the
door, scoping the terrain, and figuring out what to do next.  And if we are on the
leading edge, we will be better positioned to fulfill our social mandate of
preserving the cultural record” (22).