Peter Gottlieb delivered his presidential address at the 2010 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Washington, D.C.  Gottlieb began his career as assistant and then associate curator in the West Virginia Collection at the West Virginia University Library (1977-1983).  He then served as head of the Historical Collections and Labor Archives at Penn State University (1983-1990).  For nearly 20 years, he was the Wisconsin state archivist.  He is now an emeritus professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  His address was published in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of the American Archivist.

While other SAA presidents spoke about the need for greater collaboration with allied professions such as historians and librarians, Gottlieb proposed greater cooperation among archival organizations.  He used his diverse professional experience to build an argument that the lack of a “single, unifying national organization for archivists” generates confusion by obscuring the commonalities among archivists, including a “body of knowledge and practice” and “shared professional values and ethics” (29).  In addition to acknowledging the reasons for the development of regional archival associations and specialized organizations, Gottlieb also noted the overlapping memberships that are common for SAA members in the Council of State Archivists, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, and the American Library Association’s Rare Books and Manuscripts section, for example.  In addition to presenting a more united front, he argued that resources could be used more efficiently if all these organizations were not duplicating efforts with regards to continuing education, annual meetings, research, etc.

Gottlieb presented several possibilities for generating connections among these disparate archival organizations (31):

  1. “a grand merger of our associations into a single larger organization with a consolidated membership” — though he acknowledged this would not be a good approach
  2. strengthen collaboration among archival organizations on key issues
  3. a federation of archival organizations

He identified a number of advantages to the federation, which existing organizations would voluntarily join.  It would provide “a way to unify the archival profession in pursuit of widely shared and long-held goals” (31).  And rather than replacing existing organizations, this federation approach would gain from their strength.

Gottlieb analyzed the umbrella approach practiced by the American Library Association, which includes specialized groups, regional organizations, committees, affiliates, and roundtables.  He also considered the models offered by the American Association of Museums, the Society for American Archaeology, and ARMA, concluding that “we archivists with our plethora of separate, disconnected organizations are exceptionally fragmented” (33).  The advantage of a federation would be “a single national organization with the strength to pursue a national agenda that also allows its constituent groups to continue serving members in ways they are best equipped to do” (34).  He suggested a tiered governance system, with a representative council to make policy decisions and an executive group to handle operations.

He concluded with three reasons why this new federation would be a good idea (36):

  1. “a unified archival profession gives all members a stronger and more persuasive voice on the issues that matter a great deal to us: state and national policies that affect archives and archivists, particularly access to records, state and federal funding for archives, professional standards, and the role and status of the National Archives and Records Administration”
  2. archives and archivists need to have a united front for defending our work as well as for establishing standards
  3. a unified organization could  better serve its members, especially with continuing education

He finished with this summation of his argument:

“We believe that archives are not just good things; we believe that they are essential.  We believe that a vibrant civic life in this country can no more exist without active and accessible archives than it could without engaged citizens.  We know that archives protect Americans’ democratic rights and entitlements, enrich their cultural lives, and keep their organizations accountable.  It is time for us to come together to support these beliefs, these professional principles, and with the power of unity and common purpose build a future where we turn our aspirations into accomplishments” (37).