Monday, December 29, 2008

A state archivist retires

I've never met Guy Rocha, the Nevada State Archivist, but colleagues who have say that he is everything a state archivist should be: accessible, generous, dedicated, a fine friend and mentor, and an outspoken champion of archives and history.

Rocha, who is 57, is retiring in a few weeks. We've known for some time that the Boomers are starting to reach retirement age and that their departure from the workforce will have a profound impact upon our work lives and our society at large. As Vicki Walch et al pointed out in the A*CENSUS analysis that appeared in the Fall-Winter 2006 American Archivist, the cohort of Generation X archivists is much smaller than that of their Baby Boom predecessors and their Millennial successors.

Although Walch et all, who note that many Millennials will likely assume unprecedented amounts of responsibility during the early years of their careers, they really didn't identify any specific responsibilities that the Generation X cohort will have to take up. However, reading their report led me to start thinking about Generation X's role in the profession, and news of Rocha's retirement led me to return to the subject.

I fall squarely within the Generation X cohort, and it seems to me that we Gen X'ers have a big role to play in meeting one of the challenges articulated by Walch and Co.: ensuring the transfer of knowledge from the departing Baby Boomers to the incoming Millennials (and, of course, making our own contributions to said knowledge). We're in our thirties and forties now, and we're moving into supervisory/managerial positions while there are still plenty of Boomer mentors around. Some of our older Millennial colleagues will likely share our good fortune, but many of the younger ones won't. Archivists who are part of the Generation X are going to be doing some pretty heavy lifting in the coming years.

However, the current climate may present us with some particular challenges. The reason that Rocha, who clearly loves his job, gives for deciding to retire at this time is more than a little frightening:

. . . Rocha plans to retire before the state's budget crunch forces him to preside over cuts that might gut the agency he has been dedicated to for 28 years.

As Rocha prepares to depart, he warns that the state's financial crisis and proposed budget cuts of as much as 34 percent over the two-year fiscal period starting July 1 would devastate his agency and other state departments and leave the public without many vital programs and facilities.

"I know I could stay longer, but is it worth it?" he asked. "I don't want to see 28 years of work essentially undone in the next biennium. We could barely keep the doors open under the worst-case scenario."

. . . . "I care for this state deeply," he said. "I find it disturbing this state that has essentially been my life is, in my opinion, on the brink of disaster. You can't cut 34 percent or more without devastating state government."

Nevada isn't the only state that's facing extreme budget shortfalls, and I really hope that the current bad times are short-lived. However, if we're in for a decade of economic hardship or stagnation, a lot of accumulated professional knowledge is likely to be lost. Older archivists will retire, younger ones will not be hired to take their place, and the Gen X'ers and older Millennials will be left to keep going as best they can. Fiscal crises can at times give rise to creativity and innovation, but once an organization starts losing substantial amounts of bone and muscle, people start feeling overwhelmed and demoralized.

The current economic crisis also threatens to impede our progress toward solving another challenge that will weigh heavily upon the Generation X and Millennial cohorts: the management and preservation of electronic records. Again, Rocha's comments are sobering:

Rocha fears legislators in the coming session will cut state spending so severely that it might take decades for his and other agencies to recover.

The state archives, he said, sorely need funds and a method to manage digital and electronic records -- information found in computer databases.

"Where are Nevada's digital archives?" he asks. "We don't have one, and we don't have plans for one. The future of information is digital, and people are just erasing the stuff. We keep 19th-century books, but what happens to the databases of the 21st century?"

I really hope that my fears are boundless and that we see a V-shaped recovery very, very soon. However, perhaps we should start girding ourselves for an L-shaped recovery. Thoughts, anyone?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Rocha plans to retire before the state's budget crunch forces him to preside over cuts that might gut the agency he has been dedicated to for 28 years."

and what has Mr. Rocha been doing for the last few years to prepare for a budget crunch? Did he think that the money would continue to flow?

Unfortunately I think that too many in the archival community do not prepare for the future.