Helen R. Tibbo delivered her presidential address at the 2011 annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) held in Chicago, Illinois.  She has spent her career in education, serving on the faculty of the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill since 1989.  I both took several classes from her and worked with her on the Closing the Digital Curation Gap grant project during my time at SILS.  Her address was published in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of the American Archivist.

Tibbo identified the 75th anniversary of SAA as a turning point for the archival profession — a “coming of age in the digital era” (18).  She suggested three steps necessary for archivists to move forward in this digital era (19):

  1. learn about new technologies
  2. acquire new skills
  3. implement these skills

She cited research that underscored the overwhelming shift from analog to digital — in 2000 about 75% of information was in analog form, but by 2011 over 99% of information was born digital.  She identified some milestones related to electronic records:

1939: Records Disposition Act defined punch cards as records

1943: Records Disposal Act included in its description the phrase “regardless of physical form”

1965: the National Archives and Records Service (NARS) helped the Bureau of the Budget inventory punch cards and computer tapes

1968: the Data Archives Staff was formed by the Archivist of the United States

1970: NARS accessioned the first electronic records from federal agencies

1989: the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators and the University of Pittsburgh sponsored “Camp Pitt,” an advanced institute for government archivists focusing on archival electronic records

1993: Armstrong v. Executive Office of the President brought attention to the importance of email management and preservation

The intervening years “have witnessed extensive progress toward robust repository models and architectures, preservation tools and strategies, collaborations and community building, and trustworthy and sustainable digital curation” (23-24).  Yet archives still struggle to plant themselves firmly in the digital realm.  A 2010 report from OCLC entitled Taking Our Pulse listed these results of a survey of special collections in Association of Research Libraries institutions (24-25):

  • “Half of archival collections have no online presence;
  • User demand for digitized collections remains insatiable;
  • Management of born-digital archival materials is still in its infancy;
  • 75 percent of general library budgets have been reduced;
  • The current tough economy renders ‘business as usual’ impossible.”

Tibbo asserted that while cost is certainly a factor inhibiting electronic records management in archives, inadequate education is the more significant problem.  She suggested there should be graduate programs in digital archiving, technical courses, and systematic continuing education for archivists.  She pointed to three initiatives during her tenure as SAA president that addressed these needs:

  • The “Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies” (GPAS) were updated.  Tibbo explained “GPAS can only provide a framework and metrics for excellence but no recognition or enforcement” (26).  However, Tibbo contended GPAS serves an important role in raising expectations for  graduate programs.
  • The SAA Digital Archives Continuing Education Task Force designed the Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) Curriculum and Certificate Program.
  • Along with Cal Lee, Tibbo helped develop the DigCCurr digital curation curriculum at SILS.  This framework includes the Matrix of Digital Knowledge and Competencies and the High-Level Categories of Digital Curation Functions.

Tibbo concluded with four challenges to her listeners (33):

  1. “do something significant before next year’s SAA conference to advance your skills and knowledge”
  2. “design your digital repository or how you are going to participate in some sort of digital consortium”
  3. “go get funding support”
  4. “take some steps and do something to preserve digital content important to your collection and your users”