Sunday, April 25, 2010

Attention: U.S. archivists (New Yorkers and Utahns excepted)

On April 19, S.3227, the Preserving the American Historical Record (PAHR) bill, was introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Carl Levin (D-MI). This is a huge step forward: although PAHR legislation has twice been introduced in the House of Representatives, is the first time that the Senate has taken action on PAHR, which, if passed, will create a formula-based grants program supporting archival programs in every state in the Union.

At present, only five other Senators have signed on as co-sponsors:
  • Robert F. Bennett (R-UT)
  • Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • John F. Kerry (D-MA)
  • Charles E. Schumer (D-NY)
  • Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
More co-sponsors are needed! If you live or work in any state other than New York or Utah, please take a moment to re-acquaint yourself with PAHR and write letters (sample text here) asking each of your Senators to support this important legislation. Better yet, call each Senator's Washington office, ask to speak with the Legislative Director, explain how PAHR will benefit your state and your repository (handy talking points here), and ask that each Senator become a PAHR co-sponsor. (FYI, you'll find your Senators' contact information here.)

When writing or calling, be sure to specify that your Senator should contact the following people in order to sign on:
  • In Senator Hatch’s office: Bryan Hickman, 202-224-5251, Bryan_Hickman[at]
  • In Senator Levin’s office: Harold Chase, 202-224-6221, Harold_Chase[at]
We archivists know that records are essential to documenting the rights of citizens, keeping government honest and transparent, promoting wise use of resources, and safeguarding our history and culture, and we now have the chance to ensure that essential records get better care and are made more widely accessible. C'mon, people, let's make PAHR happen this year!

One last thing: if you are a New Yorker or a Utahn, don't rest on your laurels. Is your Representative a PAHR co-sponsor? If not (click here and scroll down for list), a letter or a phone call is definitely in order. And if your Representative has indeed signed on, consider writing your Representative -- and your Senators -- brief but heartfelt letters of thanks.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

An Earth Day treat

From the holdings of the New York State Archives (series L0102): Pete Seeger, a tireless and effective champion of the clean-up of the Hudson River, performs the song "Garbage." This performance was featured in a New York State Legislative Commission on Solid Waste Management-produced documentary (ca. 1986) entitled The Mountain in the City.

For more great archival footage -- from "I Love New York" commercials to the 1980 Winter Olympics to the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge -- be sure to check out the New York State Archives YouTube channel.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Executive records symposium, Albany, New York, 20-21 May 2010

Do you have a personal or professional interest in ensuring that the official records of presidents, governors, attorneys general, mayors, and other elected executives receive the proper care? If so, you might want to come to Albany, New York on 20-21 May.

The records of elected executives document important policy and resource allocation decisions, and in many instances are essential to the study of state history and state government. However, in New York and many other states, the records of elected executives are not always transferred to the state archives or to other repositories. Moreover, most of these records are now created or maintained in electronic systems and are thus at risk of being rendered inaccessible by changes in technology or lost as a result of human error, decay of storage media, or equipment failure.

On 20-21 May 2010, the New York State Archives Partnership Trust and the Albany Law School’s Government Law Center will join forces to highlight the need for effective executive recordkeeping at all. Documenting Leadership: A Symposium on Public Executive Records in the 21st Century will explore the importance of the records generated by governors and other elected public executives, including presidents, attorneys general, and mayors.

Richard Thornburgh, the former Governor of Pennsylvania (1979-1987) and U.S. Attorney General (1988-1991), and Richard Norton Smith, the nationally recognized Presidential historian, will deliver keynote addresses.

In addition, panelists drawn from the ranks of government, the news media, historians, public policy researchers, and the legal community will discuss the issues associated with managing, preserving, and accessing records of elected public officials who have executive responsibilities:
  • The importance of executive-level records for the administration of government and implementation of public policy, and, at an administration’s end, for the historical record
  • The special challenges of protecting sensitive information while assuring government transparency and accountability
  • Best practices and model programs in other states and at the federal level
  • Elements of model legislation
And to top it all off, on the evening of 20 May a reception for speakers and attendees will be held at the New York State Executive Mansion (reservation absolutely, positively required!)

For more details about Documenting Leadership symposium, which will be held in the Dean Alexander Moot Court Room of Albany Law School's 1928 Building, check out the online program. Please note that although this event is free and open to the public, advance registration for both the symposium and the reception is required.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

New digital preservation video from the Library of Congress

Have you ever found yourself trying to explain to interested laypeople -- friends, relatives, elected officials -- precisely why it's so hard to keep electronic files intact and accessible over time? If so, be sure to check out Why Digital Preservation is Important for Everyone, the latest video from the Library of Congress's National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program. In less than three minutes, the video touches upon most of the big threats to digital materials (wait until you see someone attempting to insert a Zip disk and an open-reel data tape into a netbook!) and emphasizes the need for "active management" of electronic files. It's an accessible non-technical introduction for people who aren't familiar with the challenges of preserving digital materials, and a great resource and model for those of us who must cultivate support for digital preservation. A full transcript is available.

Friday, April 9, 2010

48 hours

That's how long you've got to cast your ballot in the 2010 Society of American Archivists (SAA) election: the polls close at midnight on 11 April. If you were an SAA member in good standing as of 28 February 2010, you're eligible to vote in this election.

Most SAA members are voting electronically this year, and the process is easy, quick, and practically foolproof. It took me all of three minutes to complete my ballot -- and I spent some of that time shooing one of my cats off my keyboard.

Of course, reading the candidate statements took more time. Fourteen brave and awesome archivists are running for three offices -- Vice President/President-Elect, member of Council (3 positions), and member of Nominating Committee (3 positions) -- and all of them have thought-provoking things to say about the future of SAA and the archival profession.

Those of you who are relatively new to SAA might protest that you're really not comfortable voting for candidates you haven't actually met. I understand your hesitation, but my experience suggests that, in most instances, the candidates' written statements are actually good indicators of their outlook and goals. Moreover, I've always made it a point to vote for at least a couple of people I don't know. I live in the Northeast, and as a result most of the archivists I know are also Northeasterners. I don't want Northeasterners to dominate SAA, and I do believe in giving unknown (at least to me) but promising people a chance to prove themselves. Doing so may be a bit risky, but so is leaving the house in the morning. To date, I've never had cause to regret voting for an unknown, and some of those unknowns are now friends; "hey, I voted for you!" is a fantastic conversation-starter.

At any rate, if you want some say in determining SAA's member services, stance on funding for archives and other policy issues that affect the profession, and contributions to the ongoing development of the archival profession, then read those candidate statements and VOTE, fer Pete's sake! And why not beat the rush and do it now? That way, you'll have the rest of the weekend to sleep in, savor the coming of spring, get caught up on all your chores, and watch Treme.