Archivists and Records Managers

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In this time of year between Archives Month (October) and Records and Information Management Month (April), it seems appropriate to take another look at the intersections between the two fields.  Several SAA presidents spoke about this topic — see especially the speeches from Grover and Radoff.  But I also came across an American Archivist article that Frank Evans wrote in 1967 that speaks to this topic.

Evans provided a timeline of how the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the National Archives (NARA) embraced records management.

  • 1940: SAA proposed a Uniform State Records Act
  • 1941: NARA created a records administration program
  • 1941: SAA’s Committee on Reduction of Archival Material became the Committee on Record Administration
  • 1949: SAA’s Committee on Record Administration produced a pamphlet for state and local governments
  • 1955: Association of Records Executives and Administrators was founded
  • 1955: American Records Management Association was organized

Evans also incorporated relevant articles previously published in the American Archivist.  In 1943, Philip Brooks had glowing remarks about the importance of records management:

“‘Authorities on the qualifications of archivists say that archivists, in order to apply the principle of provenance, should know the methods by which records in their custody are produced. . . .  It is inevitable that the iniquity of omitting care for records as they accumulate shall be visited upon the third and fourth generations of later administrators, archivists, research students, and society as a whole'” (47).

A 1948 article for Irving Shiller gave a less gratifying analysis of the impact of records administrators:

“‘Among American archivists the cost has been the abandonment of the tradition of scholarship and research, desertion of historiography, and renunciation of a broad intellectual comprehension of the records, particularly an understanding of how they relate to the world of reality beyond the walls of the repository.  The professional archivist is atrophying'” (49).

At the 1950 SAA annual meeting, Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover provided an interesting analysis of the training needed by archivists and records managers:

“‘. . . academic qualifications in history and the social sciences are essential for an archivist, if he is to develop subject-matter competence in the areas of documentation for which he is responsible.  I believe he must develop such competence if he is to perform his professional chores intelligently.  On the other hand, management outlook and experience are essential to the records management specialist, if he is to develop as a member of the management team—and it is only as a member of that team that he can ever hope to be effective in the long run'” (51).

In his 1954 SAA presidential address, Grover spoke unequivocally about the necessity of partnership between archivists and records managers:

“‘It is folly for archivists even to think of parting company, literally or psychologically, from the newly developed specialists in records management; and no less folly on the records management side than on the archival side.  Our numbers are too few; our common interests too important'” (54).

In his 1955 SAA presidential address, Morris Radoff suggested both archivists and records managers needed to be trained as “‘masters of the whole records field'” (54).  At the same meeting, the president of the National Records Management Council, Robert Shiff, asserted archivists and records managers are interchangeable, so long as they hone their abilities to serve the needs of both scholars and administrators.  Evans also uncovered evidence from the 1958 SAA annual meeting of a panel session that emphasized the necessity of cooperation and communication between archivists and records managers:

“‘Take away one—records management—from its relationship to the other—archives administration—and you remove a vital link.  Combine the two branches and you present a united front whose total impact toward professional betterment is many times greater than the sum of efforts separately pursued'” (56).

Evans capped off this literature survey with a call for more thorough research on the topic that extends beyond the pages of the American Archivist and includes personal records and oral histories.  He contended that while the “archivist-records manager can and does exist,” “mutual misunderstandings” make it more difficult for the professions to realize their common goals than to emphasize their differences (57).  He concluded that the efforts of the records manager facilitate the work of the archivist and that the records manager also needs to embrace a sense of responsibility “to society at large and thus to posterity” (58).

Obviously, the archival and records management fields have further codified their differences since this article was published in 1967, but I, for one, embrace the notion that the professions have common denominators.  Maybe it’s time for someone to answer Evans’ call and do the research necessary to underscore this conclusion.



The sound of archives

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I have come to realize that music and memory are intertwined in my brain.  Sometimes a song evokes a particular memory, and other times words that are set to music are easier for me to remember.

With this inclination, I’ve been ruminating on the question, what song could represent archives?  As I was developing my Zotero bibliography of the American Archivist, I came across “Archivist’s Hymn” published in the April 1968 issue.  It was written in Spanish by Rafael Angel Barroeta and first presented at the Primer Congreso Bolivariano de Archiveros in Caracas, Venezuela in December 1967.  It was translated into English and published in the American Archivist.  Here are some of the key descriptors this song uses about archivists:

  • sentinels
  • guarding
  • watchful
  • precious things
  • lasting
  • history’s might
  • treasure of ages
  • wisdom
  • renown
  • passage of eras

In the December 7, 2016, issue of the Society of American Archivists’ In the Loop weekly newsletter, they reprinted “All Archivists Stick Together,” a song written by Garrison Keillor in 1983 and originally published in the November 1983 SAA Newsletter.  His depiction of archival work is a little less glowing, comparing archivists to miners:

  • dark and dusty
  • “tons of documents and papers, unprocessed, stretch on for miles”
  • “microfilm those dusty piles”
  • “let us make a better system | information to retrieve”
  • integrated reference structures

These songs got me thinking about what other songs could be appropriated to represent the work of archivists.  I’ve come up with two possibilities:

  • Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 song “Don’t Stop.”  It came to have a second life as the theme song of Bill Clinton, used in his 1992 presidential campaign and ever after.  Christine McVie wrote about her separation from her husband (and the band’s bass guitarist, John McVie) and touches on some of the Janus-like nature of archival work.  In the chorus, archivists would do better to embrace her focus on the future without conceding that the past is gone:

    “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow
    Don’t stop, it’ll soon be here
    It’ll be better than before
    Yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone”
  • Burt Bacharach and Hal David wrote “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” in the 1960s, and numerous artists recorded it.  It’s also a song about a breakup, and the third verse mirrors the role archives can play in helping to trigger memory (both individual and communal):

    “If you should find you miss the sweet and tender love we used to share
    Just go back to the places where we used to go and I’ll be there
    Oh, how can I forget you, girl, when there is
    Always something there to remind me
    Always something there to remind me”

If you have other suggestions of what songs represent the work of archivists, I’d love to hear them!

Public domain bonanza

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For the first time since 1998, copyright has expired on a group of works published in the United States, and they have entered the public domain as of January 1, 2019.  This used to be a regular occurrence, with copyright expiring after 75 years for works published before January 1, 1978, and works published on or after that date copyrighted for the lifetime of the creator plus 50 years.

The reason public domain days have been on hiatus for the past 21 years dates back to a 1998 legislation for which the Disney corporation lobbied.  In what became known as the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, 20 years was added to the copyright term, and it was specified that no copyrighted works could enter the public domain until 2019.

The Center for the Study of the Public Domain at Duke Law School has a helpful website that lists works from 1923 that are part of this latest release.  Technology has changed dramatically over the last two decades, so it’ll be interesting to see what sorts of applications and derivations are made from these newly available resources.  For instance,

BTW, because Mickey Mouse was the cause of this long interval between the releases of works into the public domain, I should point out that Steamboat Willie, with Mickey Mouse’s first appearance on screen, was released in 1928 — so only 5 more years until he enters the public domain.