Sunday, January 10, 2010

"The Archivist of the United States Googled me . . . ."

Earlier today, National Public Radio's Weekend Edition program aired Liane Hansen's lengthy profile of David Ferreiro, the new Archivist of the United States, and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. It's a great piece, and it opens with news that Ferriero prepared for the interview by doing a little online research about Hansen and NPR and arranging to show Hansen records relating to her past work -- including a letter documenting President Eisenhower's opinions about Spam (the meat product nuisance, not the electronic communication nuisance).

Apart from a few minor errors (e.g., Hansen implies that "vault" items, most of which can be seen by researchers who document their need to see them and request access in advance, are completely off-limits to the public), Hansen avoids most of the journalistic clich├ęs about archives. There's not a single reference to dust, and Hansen's description of the smell of a properly equipped and maintained repository -- "old paper and clean air" -- is elegantly simple and evocative.

Hansen's profile doesn't tackle the subject of electronic records, which Ferriero identified as one of his biggest concerns in a recent Federal Computer Week interview. However, it does emphasize one of his other top priorities: the digitization of NARA's non-electronic holdings. (Fortunately, it also stresses that digitizing each and every one of the 10 billion paper- and analog media-based items won't happen overnight.) It also stresses Ferriero's enduring passion for reference work, which will likely shape NARA's activities under his tenure.

My description of Hansen's profile is no substitute for actually listening to it. It's great publicity for Ferriero, NARA, and archives in general, and I wish that all media coverage relating to archives were this informative, entertaining, and perceptive.

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Tom Tom said...

Make the Archivist the Librarian of Congress, President Obama!

The Archivist is librarian and previously ran the N.Y. Public Library. and before that, the University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs at Duke University. Prior to his Duke position, he worked for 31 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Library. He was actively involved in the evolution of North Carolina's Triangle Research Libraries Network.

Dr. Ferriero is the first librarian to serve as Archivist of the United States.