Mark A. Greene delivered his presidential address at the 2008 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in San Francisco, California.  He began his career as an archivist at Carleton College (1985-1989), and then spent ten years as curator of manuscripts acquisition at the Minnesota Historical Society.  He spent two years as the head of research center programs at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.  From 2002-2015 , he served as director of the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming, where he currently serves as Senior Archivist Emeritus.  His address was published in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of the American Archivist.

Greene’s basic premise was that defining a profession is the key to power, and “one of our profession’s weaknesses is that we tend to focus too much on our processes and not enough on our purpose” (18).  He claimed archivists exercise power “by shaping the historical record, by promoting freedom of government information, by protecting rights, by educating young minds, by affecting the way scholars apprehend and understand the materials in our repositories, by providing substance to powerful entertainment” (20).

Greene asserted that in order for archivists to translate importance into power, we must first define our values and then use our power.  He identified ten values that he believes are key to the archival profession — though he also challenged readers to debate his list and suggest additional core values for archivists.

1. Professionalism

He focused on “internalizing a common set of values, defining our importance,
and claiming power” as vital characteristics of the archival profession.  He pointed to former SAA presidents Rand Jimerson and Maygene Daniels for their thoughts on leading the public to value the archives profession.

2. Collectivity

Greene asserted that one of the contributions of archival thought is our focus on the aggregate rather than the individual — a notion of ours that could be modeled for other professions.  He viewed this value both through the prism of strength in numbers among the profession and as collaboration with allied professions.

3. Activism

He defined three elements to activism:

• “‘agency’ — our active shaping of the historical record” (25) — which he argued is most evident in the act of appraisal.  He went on to say that agency is “part of our ability to claim importance and relevance: we make decisions that define what our institutions and society can remember, attain, conceive; we actively shape the way that users encounter our materials and the way they in turn shape the past, including controlling what portions of the past are easily accessible to all and which are accessible only to our physical visitors.  We should be proud of these decisions, not shrink from them” (26).

• advocacy — which must be supported both through personal effort and financial commitments.  Here Greene looked to incoming SAA president Frank Boles for inspiration.

• “our deliberate decisions to give voice to the otherwise underdocumented individuals and communities in our midst” (25)

4. Selection

Greene explained the archival appraisal process succinctly:

“We select because we affirm the necessity of such appraisal and our professional ability to do it thoughtfully and defensibly (though not objectively and scientifically)” (27).  He went on to explain that the appropriate time for appraisal is “at the point of acquisition” (28).

5. Preservation

He was wary about including preservation as a core value, arguing that “use should almost always trump preservation” (29).  He concluded that the appropriate role for archivists is to “provide a professional assessment of what should be preserved and why” (30).

6. Democracy

Greene viewed democracy primarily through the lens of governmental accountability.  He also asserted archivists should be watchdogs for greater access to records.

7. Service

He argued that an archivist must first serve the needs of one’s institution and clients and then consider the greater social good.  He defined service as “the linchpin between access and use” (32) and suggested that archivists have a responsibility to market our repositories to our constituents.

8. Diversity

Greene interpreted diversity primarily as the need to have diverse holdings and users.  He argued that individual repositories must shoulder the responsibility of introducing archives to “underserved” communities and attracting minority populations into the profession.  He pointed back to SAA president Elizabeth Adkins for her promotion of diversity.

9. Use and Access

He suggested archivists “should do everything we legally, ethically, and practically can to promote, ease, and sustain use by whomever our user group(s) happens to be” (34).  Where the interests of rights-holders and calls for privacy and confidentiality compromise access, Greene argued archivists should at the very least fight for sunset provisions that will allow for eventual access to the materials after the death of the subjects.  He also acknowledged the symbolic use of archives, wherein people who may never themselves enter an archives still “‘use’ certain material simply by being proud or happy or secure that it exists” (36).

10. History

Greene cautioned that the legalistic bent of archival discourse in the 1990s negated the role of history for archives, thereby excluding “the very value that our institutions and society most often identify and cherish about our profession” (36).  He asserted,

“We preserve and make accessible for use the primary sources of history.  Through our active selection, our conscious choices in writing descriptions, and our role as mediators in reference, we help translate primary sources into sources of meaning for users” (38).

Greene’s conclusion brought home his point about the power of archives: “When values are shared, a new level of shared meaning evolves, leading to aligned, effective action and results — in other words, power” (39).  He also suggested a possible “elevator speech” that summarizes the archival profession:

“Archivists are professionals with the power of defining and making accessible the primary sources of history, primary sources that protect rights, educate students, inform the public, and support a primal human desire to understand our past” (40).

The end of the story: In August 2008, SAA followed up on his challenge to develop shared values by appointing a task force to determine the feasibility of such an endeavor.  This task force recommended moving forward, so in July 2009, another task force was chosen to develop a values statement.  In May 2011, the SAA Council approved a set of core values for archivists, and in January 2012, the SAA Council resolved to co-publish the Core Values of Archivists with SAA’s Code of Ethics for Archivists.