Owing to the manner in which the discussion was initiated and the tone that it has taken, to date I've refrained from commenting; I simply assumed that the listserv was experiencing yet another heat wave and that cooler, more rational discussion would eventually prevail. Unfortunately, to date, there is nary a cold front in sight. The discussion, which now involves the blogosphere as well, remains as heated as ever. The latest hotspot: ArchivesNext. Kate T. did a little independent digging and dispassionately presented her conclusions, and received harsh and, in my view, unwarranted criticism from Clark and his archival champion, Richard Cox.
FWIW, Kate and I spoke for a few minutes at a conference several years ago, and our subsequent interactions have consisted of posting sporadic comments on a Facebook group and on each other's blogs. I'm defending Kate not because she's a friend but because I think her well-reasoned, deliberative post was met with unwarranted hostility -- and because this sort of hostility has, in my view, consistently inhibited honest discussion of Clark's case.
The discussion on the listserv was initiated with the desire to spur the Society of American Archivists to respond to the situation, and to do so in a very specific way. It was also animated by the belief -- sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit -- that anyone who did not immediately take to the streets and demand that SAA do exactly as Clark and Cox desired was guilty of bad faith, bad judgment, or both.
As Terry at Beaver Archivist aptly pointed out this morning:
It is clear that the constant public pressure from a vocal and respected archivist, Richard Cox, helped move NARA to finally act in a responsible way towards Anthony Clark. The importance of this kind of public advocacy cannot be understated and there is merit to the argument that a group like SAA should have gotten into the game earlier and should not feel constrained by its ethics code from taking public positions issues like this.Unfortunately, Cox and now, judging from his most recent statements, Clark himself seem to be of the opinion that anyone proposes a different means of achieving the desired end -- NARA's prompt disclosure of the records that Mr. Clark has requested -- is simply sucking up to NARA or seeking to sweep an inconvenient problem under the rug. They are thus alienating many people who would otherwise be outspokenly supportive of efforts to hold NARA accountable for its conduct.
But there have been other efforts working from other angles to make this happen as well. It is disingenuous to claim that these other efforts are meaningless.
It really does seem that there are a few staffers at NARA who fully deserve whatever acid criticism comes their way. However, when it comes to SAA and the archival profession as a whole, you can, as the old saying goes, catch a lot more flies with honey . . . .
Postscript, 2009-03-31: I was mulling over the NARA-FOIA-Clark-Cox-SAA situation during a few minutes of downtime this morning, and it struck me that the above post might leave the impression that I view Clark's problem as isolated and that prompt review and disclosure of the records that are the subject of his FOIA request will solve everything. From the start, I've suspected some broader changes at NARA will likely be needed. I meant to make this point in my original post, which was written at the end of an intense day (more about that tomorrow), but didn't.