For my next foray into new perspectives on archival work, I turn to Barack Obama’s keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.  Obama was a community organizer, civil rights lawyer, and a lecturer at the University of Chicago law school.  He served in the Illinois State Senate (1997-2004), the U.S. Senate (2005-9), and since 2009 has served as U.S. President.

There are a number of themes and ideals that Obama emphasized in this address that resonate with the goals of archival work.

  • Hard work and perseverance.  Archivists are no strangers to hard work, but in order to persevere, we must have defined goals in view.  Then just as Obama’s father put in the effort necessary to get a scholarship to study in the U.S., archivists can also focus on accomplishing our stretch goals.
  • Tolerance and diversity.  Obama referred to the diversity of his own background and his parents’ belief in the tolerance of America.  The Society of American Archivists promotes these values through the Statement on Diversity and Inclusion and is planning the 2017 annual conference around the theme of diversity and inclusion.
  • Generosity.  Obama said his parents believed “in a generous America you don’t have to be rich to achieve your potential.”  While archives are almost always in search of better funding, at the same time we provide service to our records without question of the financial status of the requestors.
  • Open opportunities.  A lot of archival work focuses on keeping the doors of opportunity open — whether by preserving historical records or by providing access to records to promote transparency.
  • Community, faith, and sacrifice.  No one enters the archival profession seeking fame and fortune, so just as Obama outlined the political service of John Kerry, the same principles of devotion apply to archivists as we serve our communities.

I’ll conclude with a few direct quotations that can stand on their own for inspiration:

  • “That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles.”
  • “For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga.  A belief that we are connected as one people. . . .  It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper — that makes this country work.  It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family.  ‘E pluribus unum.’  Out of many, one.”
  • “The audacity of hope!  In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation; the belief in things not seen; the belief that there are better days ahead.”
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