The Recent Issue of The American Archivist

Volume 78 (Fall/Winter 2015) of The American Archivist arrived recently, thick and full of interesting articles. This journal has been the voice of the American profession since it inception, and it has gone through many changes since its initial appearance in the early years of the Society of American Archivists. In its earliest years it was the vehicle for publication of papers presented at the SAA annual conferences. Gradually it began to feature work about archives by scholars and others outside of the profession. Mixed in were reports of major Society initiatives and the occasional debate about challenges faced by the profession. This most recent issue suggests that research about archives and archival work, by both academics and practitioners, seems to have reached a new level of maturity.

I have had a long-term interest in the journal. I published my first essay in it in 1974 (yikes) and my most recent book review in it just in the past year or so. I even had a stint as its editor in 1991-1995, so I know about the challenges of putting together its issues, soliciting submissions, and exercising judgment about what should and should not be published. I also know that being the editor of this journal potentially makes you a target because of a perceived gatekeeper role in the continuing evolution of the profession’s scholarship.

The current issue features eleven essays and seven reviews. The topics range over archives and warfare, planning in archival repositories, “whiteness” and social justice, microblogging in China, the relationship of archivists and historians, technology and archival processing, redaction and digitization, preservation and its role in MPLP, marketing finding aids on social media, and archives and education. Drawing from my personal interests, a few of these essays strike me as ones that will serve as benchmarks for future work or, at the least, generate responses (and generating reactions is always reassuring to an editor because it is indication that a journal is being read). Bruce Montgomery essay on the inalienability doctrine and the conventions of war reveals a major gap in how we consider captured state records and the need for archivists to rethink how they approach this issue. Mario Ramirez’s essay critiquing whiteness as an archival imperative continues a testy but important conversation that has been going on over the past decade. Alex Poole’s study of the connection between historians and archivists gives us a new, thoroughly researched benchmark about this. And Matthew Francis’s analysis of 2013 graduates of archival education programs and their ability in landing entry-level positions is useful to all concerned about the continued health of the profession. While his study does not take into account the vast array of what constitutes such programs and the immense differences displayed by individual student interests and abilities, the article provides useful data that will animate debate about how we educate archivists. (My concern about what is not in it is just an example of more research that is needed, not a criticism).

Congratulations to Gregory Hunter, the AA editor, Teresa Brinati, the Society’s Director of Publishing, and others involved in the creation of this issue. I have only one suggestion: either eliminate photographs of the authors or get better images (some were truly horrible and distracting).

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The Future of the Scholarly Monograph

An interesting new essay about the future of the scholarly monograph has appeared in the form of a report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Michael A. Elliott, “The Future of the Monograph in the Digital Era: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” Journal of Electronic Publishing 18 (Fall 2015), DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0018.407 (thanks to my colleague Steve Griffin for pointing this out). This report is the work of a group of humanists and university administrators at Emory University, seeking to develop a “model of university-funded monograph publication,” focusing on “open access digital publication as well as a print-on-demand product.” This is another effort to address the matter of digital publication in a way that fosters the utility of the monograph that seems threatened in the digital era.

Our Emory colleagues believe in the value of the scholarly monograph, defined as a “peer reviewed, detailed written work on a single specialized subject, whose presentation of evidence, argument, and conclusions do not fit within the constraints of an academic journal publication).” There are no surprises in that this team identifies an array of challenges to the future of scholarly publishing in the digital era, including how it factors into academic evaluation, tenure and promotion; how publishing digitally enhances and transforms the monograph – and the approaches in design, marketing, peer review, and so forth that need to be in place to ensure the monograph’s utility; and the benefits of open access, primarily “by granting access to smaller, less financially secure colleges and universities that may not have the resources to purchase monographs or databases” and “by sustaining existing scholarly communities, as well as simultaneously cultivating new audiences for our work.” Most readers of this report will be interested in the funding model being developed at Emory, which, at this point, is more of a proposal to be tested out.

The authors of the Emory report believe that the printed book will continue to have a role, while the digital form opens up interesting new possibilities for publishing. We acknowledge that the matter of the future of print has intrigued a number of scholars – such as Peter L. Shillingsburg, From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representation of Literary Texts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009), Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: New York University Press, 2011), and Andrew Piper, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); librarians, Mark Y. Herring, Fool’s Gold: Why the Intranet is No Substitute for a Library (Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland and Co., Inc., 2007) and Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles, The Library Beyond the Book (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014); and social commentators, Jeff Gomez, Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age (New York: Macmillan, 2008) and Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. (Boston: Faber and Faber1994). The printed book has been declared to be dead even more often that has God.

Thinking about the topic, the future of scholarly publishing, ought to remind us how important it is to introduce up and coming information professionals to the history of the book and publishing. We have become so entranced by technologies that many library and information science schools how crowded out courses on the history of books and printing, robbing students of the opportunity to engage with an interesting and contentious topic that can strengthen their ability to understand how these technologies still persist even while they undergo substantial change. Understanding this can help these information professionals prepare for their future careers, providing an array of case studies that will be invaluable to them, seven if they become digital curators, archivists, and librarians. I initially discussed this a lifetime ago in my “Taking Sides on the Future of the Book,” American Libraries 28 (February 1997) and I continue wrestling with this by teaching a course on the history of books, printing, and publishing.

 

 

 

 

 

The Meaning of the Library

Libraries have been part of society going back to the ancient world, and they have prompted innumerable commentaries and debates about their mission and value. The Pew Research Center has issued yet another report on the role of libraries in our society (John Horrigan, Libraries at the Crossroads, September 15, 2015). Focusing on the role of public libraries, the report includes many familiar observations, emphasizing that “These findings highlight how this is a crossroads moment for libraries. The data paint a complex portrait of disruption and aspiration. There are relatively active constituents who hope libraries will maintain valuable legacy functions such as lending printed books. At the same time, there are those who support the idea that libraries should adapt to a world where more and more information lives in digital form, accessible anytime and anywhere.” The report asserts that there are two primary questions that need to be addressed, namely, what should be done with the printed book collections and what should happen with the physical buildings? You can read the report to see how Americans are viewing such issues. Needless to say, local public libraries are seen to be important resources that their loss would harm a community.

While such surveys are useful, and their frequency of publication provides useful benchmarks for understanding the role of libraries, I prefer historical and scholarly analyses of the meaning of the library, such as seen in Alice Crawford, ed., The Meaning of the Library: A Cultural History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015). The diverse essays explore the efforts, through history, to build and sustain universal libraries, and the many failures that have resulted in this quest. The dozen essays, grouped into categories of historical explorations, the library in the imagination (such as film and literature), and the present and future status of the library, have been written by leading scholars such as Andrew Pettegree and Robert Darnton. These essays consider both some of the reasons why we continue to be so insecure about these institutions and why we should be reassured that they are not going away. Interesting comments abound, such as by Pettegree, the “book survives because it is an object of technological genius” (p. 87) and Robert Darnton, noting that after reading thousands of letters of a Swiss publisher, “I have come to appreciate the enormous complexity of the book industry in the eighteenth century” even as society, the economy, and culture continued to change (p. 97). The Pew report suggests that such turbulence continues, offering ways of supporting new roles to ensure the library’s continuance; while it is good to wrestle with such matters it is essential also to realize that we always have faced such matters. The library is more resilient than it seems in the face of often dire predictions about competition from the Web, e-publishers, and other such sources.

Some of the essays in the Crawford volume suggest the meaning of the archival function of libraries. Stephen Enniss contributes an essay about the sale and collecting of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes manuscripts, as well as reflecting on Emory’s acquisition of Salman Rushdie’s papers, a portion of which comes in digital form on disks. This leads Enniss also to grapple with the challenges of digital curation, as in the “literary culture of own time will survive as it has always survived, wherever there is that combination of vision, opportunity, and money. Addressing our present challenges will certainly require substantial investment and the best guidance of the profession working in collaboration with scholars and with writers themselves. It will also require a broad awareness of, and commitment to, the survival of our literary culture” (p. 233). Our success will not be complete; Enniss cautions, “we will not catch and hold onto everything. An archive is also a record of absences at the very brink of oblivion” (p. 234). It would be good to have a volume of similar essays on the meaning of the archive, but it is also useful to peruse volumes such as this one on the meaning of libraries (and we could add museums) also supporting some form of archival mission.

Some might be uneasy with the Crawford collection, since it meanders far and wide across the landscape of the library, past and present. However, there is a lot of interesting insights to be gained from its reading. Its range of coverage also suggests how critical libraries have been in society; the Pew report is merely a recent snapshot of why this continues to be the case.

 

There Are Things Greater Than What We See

 

We live in a technocratic age, where we want data about everything and must measure things in every conceivable way. While we are awash in information, we are not necessarily better informed or a better society. The vast networks of social media are also used against us by terrorists, demagogues, and marketers. Fortunately, we have voices of reason that remind us such matters, that there are things bigger than what can be supplied by algorithms, such as values and ethics. One of those voices is Marilynne Robinson, novelist and essayist, who writes broadly about contemporary issues from a Christian perspective.

Her current book is The Givenness of Things: Essays (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015), a collection of seventeen essays all focusing in one way or another on the notion that we are far more than the technologies we use (or misuse). Right from the start, she presents the challenge: “Now we are less interested in equipping and refining thought, more interested in creating and mastering technologies that will yield measurable enhancements of material well-being – for those who create and master them, at least” (p. 3). Even in our universities we emphasize acquiring skills and vocationalism rather than learning. Universities were once places where you read, thought, and debated. Robinson states, “Open a book and a voice speaks. A world, more or less, alien or welcoming, emerges to enrich a reader’s store of hypotheses, about how life is to be understood” (p. 15). Now faculties are sometimes loath to assign books because students often will not read them. “Now we are more inclined to speak of information than of learning, and to think of the means by which information is transmitted rather than of how learning might transform, and be transformed by the atmospheres of a given mind” (p. 28). What, we might ask, are we losing in all this?

Why has this happened in higher education? Robinson contends, “The university now seems obsessed with marketing themselves and ensuring the marketability of their product, which will make the institution itself more marketable – a loop of mutual reinforcement of the kind that sets in when thinking becomes pathologically narrow. Somehow, in a society that is extraordinarily rich by world standards, largely on the basis of wealth created by earlier generations, and one that is capable, if it or any other society ever has been, of giving its people the means to consider and appreciate their moment on this earth, we are panicked into mastering ourselves and others into potential units of economic production – assuming, as we never should, that we know what future circumstances will demand of us” (p. 123). A few days in a university or a few hours in a faculty meeting would be enough to convince someone that her assessment is at least partly right.

Providing an education and being an educated person goes far beyond what we can touch and feel or measure and buy. Robinson lets us know this in a very personal way: “My church is across the street from a university, where good souls teach with all sincerity – the factually true, insofar as this can really be known; the history of nations, insofar as they can be faithfully reported; the qualities of an art, insofar as they can be put into words. But to speak in one’s own person and voice to others who listen from the thick of their endlessly various situations, about what truly are or should be matters of life and death, this is a singular thing. For this we come to church” (p. 146). The world is a bigger and more complicated place requiring a larger agenda than what comes from data and the technology capturing and storing it.

The State of the American Mind

The State of the American Mind

When I was an undergraduate, one of the readings with the greatest influence on my thinking was Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, a sweeping assessment of one aspect of the American mind. I have found myself going back to that book from time-to-time to help me understand current aspects of life (for example, what seems like the deteriorating nature of political and civil discourse). Although it is not necessarily reassuring, studies like Hofstadter’s remind me that what we are presently experiencing is not new. For this reason, when I see more recent studies and essays on American intellectual activity, I often take a glance into them.

One of these recent works is Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow, eds., State of the American Mind (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2015), billed on the dust jacket as a set of essays critiquing the “new anti-intellectualism.” The essays range widely, perhaps too widely, over topics from Biblical literacy to the state of higher education and are grouped in three thematic sections (intellectual and cognitive decline, personal and cognitive habits and interests, and national consequences).

For academic faculty, sometimes mystified by the challenges of teaching and engaging their students, the essays may help to explain some of the reasons for their frustrations (even if not always providing answers with how to deal with such issues). We read about declining academic rigor, declining quality of news coverage, the lack of critical assessment skills, growing political ignorance, interest in avoiding difficult problems, and a culture of confirmation. Faculty will find much to bolster their own concerns and suppositions about the students in their physical and virtual classrooms. For example, Gerald Graff’s “Why Johnny and Joanie Can’t Write, Revisited,” provides interesting insights into why this is a problem (spoiler alert, he attributes much of this to the confusing ways students are taught writing).

Some of the essays provide clues to challenges we face in the university classroom. While attempting to set the context for understanding the political, economic, and cultural contexts of recent events, we often find that many students are disengaged from following the news and lack deeper and broader historical perspectives allowing them to comprehend the significance of the news. It is difficult to blame students for not being news junkies. As David T. Z. Mindich states, “As many Americans drifted away from politics and political news, the networks chased after them with fluff. CNN has been among the worst offenders, giving over its Headline News Network, once a serious place for straight news, to a circus show of entertainment, fashion, and sensational crime news” (p. 101). I concur completely. It is just another reason why it is difficult to believe the claims that we live in an information age that makes us better informed.

 

We discern the reasons for why teaching and engaging students can be so difficult. Jean M. Twenge asserts that “American culture promotes the idea that self-belief is more important than actual performance. Believing that you are great is sufficient, actually learning or accomplishing something is not necessary” (p. 125). Reading Facebook entries loaded with selfies is nearly enough to convince you that this assessment is spot on and to question the value of social media other than as a means of charting the crazier aspects of our public life and culture. I long ago gave up on Facebook. And the greatest value to me in Twitter is getting current news about my baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Reading this volume may generate a mix of responses, from disagreement to provoking thought about particular issues, but that is the value of a collection of essays such as this.

The Changing Nature of Scholarly and Professional Reviewing

Reviewing new publications has been a staple of professions and scholarly disciplines for a very long time. We have come to rely upon these reviews as a means of staying current with our fields and as a way of pursuing other personal interests. Careers have been made or dashed by reviews by peers and great scholarly debates have been waged, sometimes for decades, via reviews. Avid readers of outlets like The New York Review of Books, like myself, will spend as much time reading the letter responses to reviews as the reviews themselves.

We seem to learn how to do reviews by mimicking what we have read of reviews in our areas, following the templates and requirements provided by journals publishing reviews, and through trial and error. For something with such consequences, this can seem like a slapdash process. Now, it may be that the availability of the Web and online publishing might finally have begun to transform reviewing, as reported on by Jeffrey J. Williams, “Empire of Letters: Tom Lutz and the ‘Los Angeles Review of Books’ Set Out to Crete a New Model of Literary Review,” The Chronicle Review, January 8, 2016, B7-B9.

Williams considers how the LARB is trying to create a new style of reviewing, with “writing that was more personal, sometimes impressionistic, and more lively than typical academic fare.” The LARB has created a variety of other Web sites, a book club, print quarterly, blog, and weekly radio show in order to achieve this. The “LARB beckons a new model of a literary review, not tied to a newspaper or based in a university but creating its own autonomous space, like a nonprofit gallery or museum, supported by a mix of donors, grants, ads, and memberships, and drawing a diverse audience. It is the kind of idea that makes you wonder why no one had done it before.”

All of this has been led by Lutz, an English professor, who once taught creative writing and who has done research in literary history. He is what we now generally call a public scholar, a form of scholar once heralded, now lamented because of a perceived decline in influence, and still hoped for in terms of a resurgence. As Williams notes, “The review tills the uneven ground between the selective and the inclusive, the conventional journal and the blog, the academic and the general reader. While it has developed a public presence . . . it draws many academic writers and readers, often graduate students. It also reaches educated readers and subaudiences for its various features, for instance in law and in the entertainment industry.” Developing a broad readership is a goal that seems, even now, to rattle some academics, while engaging and challenging others.

I refer readers to this recent essay because it relates to one of the purposes of this blog, to review, in more personal and engaging ways, what is being researched and written about archives and the academy, my two areas of interest. I have been trying to write such reviews for nearly four decades, occasionally with some success. I am convinced that blogs like this and what the LABR is doing may be the best venue for such activity.

We can look elsewhere to ascertain why reviewing is important and probably needs to evolve. Just about every one who considers improving writing states that it starts by being a good reader. This is one reason why we have many essay collections by writers and scholars who include their reviews. Reviewing books is always more art than science, but it is useful to examine them because they often contain observations both about reading and writing and the intersection between the two. Mikita Brottman, The Solitary Vice: Against Reading (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2008), reminds us about the tremendous growth in books about reading and its importance to us in developing a sense of who we are or want to become. Jacques Bonnet, Phantoms on the Bookshelves, trans. Siân Reynolds (New York: Overlook Press, 2012), likewise reminds us of the importance of our personal libraries and what they tell us about ourselves; “To lose one’s books is to lose one’s past,” Bonnet writes (p. 112).

We also have professional book reviewers who have assembled essays, examples, and memoirs about what they do and how they learned to become readers. Michael Dirda, in his Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2006) presents his lessons about reading and its importance: “We turn to books in the hope of better understanding ourselves and better engaging with the meaning of our experiences” (p. xv). He also has given us a memoir about growing up in the 1950s and 1960s and his early adventures with reading in his An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2003). Finally, Michael Dirda gathers together his best review essays from his Washington Post Book World contributions and other venues in Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000) and Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books (New York: Pegasus Books, 2015). He writes about everything from vacation reading to children’s books. At one point he ponders his ideal environment for writing: “I own a real dictionary stand and would like to add a library cart and a revolving bookcase. Most of all, I daydream about possessing enormous wealth so that I could employ a personal librarian, someone to catalogue my books properly, answer my correspondence, delicately bring to my attention one or two choice items coming up for auction at Sotheby’s. I could, of course, wear a velvet smoking jacket at my desk, take breakfast in the conservatory, and in the late afternoon go for long walks on graveled paths” (Readings, p. 30). In the more recent collection of columns, Dirda provides an explanation for the importance of physical books: “Books don’t just furnish a room. A personal library is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be, of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and how much you’d like to know . . . . Digital texts are all well and good, but books on shelves are a presence in your life. As such, they become a part of your day-to-day existence, remind you, chastising you, calling to you. Plus, book collecting is, hands down, the greatest pastime in the world” (Browsings, p. 233).

All of this suggests why I increasingly think about myself, in my dotage, as a reader, first and foremost. By this, I mean someone who reads critically, searching for insights and ideas about my own research and teaching areas wherever I can find them. We tend in our current information age to read superficially, browsing really, if we read at all. Even in our universities, reading, in the real sense of the word, seems to be on the decline. Maintaining a blog such as this is an effort to reach out and argue why reading is essential, intimately connect to teaching and research.

Picture Titles

When I paint a landscape or seascape, I never have a title in mind; for that matter, I sometimes don’t have a final image in mind. The paint, the brushes, and canvas lead me to a final painting. In this regard, painting is a very different process than writing (for me, at least). I usually have a title in mind when I write, along with a working outline or detailed notes, as I develop an essay. However, it surprises me that I had not really thought much about how paintings acquire their titles, that is, until I read Ruth Bernard Yeazell, Picture Titles: How and Why Western Paintings Acquired Their Names (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015). The book was a gift, given to me because of the heavy reliance on archival materials and my interest in art.

Yeazell, an English Professor, describes how the need for titles developed because of the large numbers of paintings that eventually began to circulate and the need to describe them in dealers’ catalogs, the museums and their exhibitions, and in the emerging art criticism from the late Renaissance to the present. As it turns out, many artists did not and do not provide titles, and the titles of many of our best known major works either were named by dealers, auction house staff, notaries (for wills and probate inventories), publishers and printmakers, or curators or, in fact, possess multiple titles. As the author of this volume states,“While there are clearly exceptions to the rule, the baptism of a painting is apt to be a messy affair: post hoc (sometimes very post hoc), informally negotiated with the artist’s public, and even repeatedly negotiated as the image itself travels from one context to another. Any theory of picture titles, in other words, will always find itself entangled in a history of reception” (pp. 5-6). As museums felt compelled to add labels to identify paintings, the notion of titles became more entrenched, even while many artists ignored the need to provide their own names.

Archivists have been long interested in art works because they either view paintings – landscapes, seascapes, portraits – as documentary materials, or because they have become involved in establishing and sustaining museum archives. But archivists will find this book of additional value because of its use and discussion of archival sources. Also, archivists themselves are involved in naming collections, and they will see parallels to their own descriptive work: “Paintings are material objects and the more they circulate, the more important it becomes to devise some means of identifying and tracking them” (p. 25). The use of conventional genre terms, such as still life or landscape, will remind archivists of how they utilize similar genre terms, papers and diaries. “Studying the history of picture titles makes one acutely aware that no work enters the public sphere without the collaboration of others” (p. 265). This alone makes this book worth reading by archivists and other information professionals. The detailed studies of paintings of artists such as Winslow Homer and J.M.W. Turner, also makes this an engaging and informative reference.

This was a nice gift.

Archival Research and Education: A New Publication

The nature of archival research and education has been changing rapidly in the past few decades. This is evident from a new volume of conference papers — Archival Research and Education: Selected Papers from the 2014 AERI Conference, edited by Richard J. Cox, Alison Langmead, and Eleanor Mattern, and just published by Litwin Books and available for $45. ISBN: 978-1-63400-020-8.This book is number seven in the Series on Archives, Archivists, and Society, Richard J. Cox, editor.

Here is the publisher’s description:

The sixth annual Archival Education and Research Institute (AERI), hosted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences in July 2014, brought together doctoral students and faculty engaged in Archival Studies from around the world, although principally from the United States. Supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, these institutes are designed to strengthen education and research, as well as support academic cohort building and mentoring in the archival community.

This publication features fifteen essays by both emerging and established archival scholars and faculty from four continents. Subjects include: dictatorship archives in Brazil, affect and agency in the archives of the countries of the former Yugoslavia, archival images in recent movies, archival systems interoperability research, cross institutional usages of EAD 2002 , Ernst Posner and archival scholarship in Washington, D.C., technical infrastructures and digital heritage preservation, the challenges of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage, enabling Big Data curation in a non-archival organization, personal archiving of Web pornography, the history and future of archival education in the United States, innovative archival teaching methods in China, rights in records as a platform for participatory archiving, and archival readings of Derrida’s Archive Fever. These contributions reflect the range of new archival research, the continuing maturation of archival education, and the growing international collaboration among archival scholars and faculty.

The volume is offered in memory of Terry Cook (1947-2014), the plenary speaker at the first AERI conference in 2009.

The contents of the volume are as follows:

In Memory of Terry Cook Anne Gilliland

Introduction Richard J. Cox, Alison Langmead, and Eleanor Mattern

International Perspectives, Human Rights, and Archives

Lucian Heymann, “Dictatorship Memories and Archives in Brazil: Reflections on Politics and Projects.”

Anne Gilliland, “Studying Affect and its Relationship to the Agency of Archivists in the Countries of the Former Yugoslavia.”

Anne Gilliland and Sue McKemmish, “Rights in Records as a Platform for Participative Archiving.”

Archival Images

Lindsay Mattock and Eleanor Mattern, “Looking at Archives in Cinema: Recent Representations of Records in Motion Pictures.”

Archival Systems and Standards

Gregory Rolan, “Archival Systems Interoperability: Research Themes and Opportunities.”

Sarah Buchanan, “Cross Institutional Usage of EAD 2002 as an Archival Description Standard.”

Archival History

Jane Zhang, “Archival Scholarship in the Nation’s Capital: Ernst Posner.”

Digital Heritage and Archives

Patricia Galloway, “Technical Infrastructures and Digital Heritage Preservation.”

Tonia Sutherland, “A Culture of Collaboration: Bridging the Gap Between Archive and Repertoire.”

Lorraine Richards, Adam Townes, and Yuan Yuan Feng, “Curation through the Back Door: Enabling Big Data Curation Capabilities in a Non-Archival Organization.”

Personal Archiving

Sarah Ramdeen and Alex Poole, “’Leaving the mouse on the left is the new leaving the tape in the VCR’: Personal Archiving, Personal Information, and the ‘Pariah Industry’ of Web Pornography”

Archival Education and Knowledge

Alison Langmead, “The History of Archival Education in America: What’s Next?”

Huang Xiaoyu, “The Innovation of Archival Teaching Method: Introducing Archival News into the Classroom.”

James M. O’Toole, “Understanding Understanding: What Do Archivists Need to Know, Then and Now?”

Robert Riter, “Derridean Influences: Archival Readings of Archive Fever.”

Marking Milestones

DSC_0445I have become accustomed to celebrating my anniversary as an archivist (December 27th marked the beginning of my 44th year in the profession) with a visit to Williamsburg, Virginia, where my interest in history was kindled when I was seven and visited for the first time. Pictured here is a photo of me standing in front of the Secretary’s Office in the restored colonial capitol last week; I wrote an essay about the archival meaning of that old public records office a decade ago (“Public Memory Meets Archival Memory: The Interpretation of Williamsburg’s Secretary’s Office,” American Archivist 68 [Fall/Winter 2005]: 279-296). As I get older, I find myself mulling over my career, and what I have left to do in its remaining years.

Most of us have observed, heard about, or read stories about excellent athletes who try to squeeze one or two more years out of their aging bodies. Back in the late 1960s Charlton Heston starred in a movie, Number One, about an aging pro football quarterback, with the final scene a fading image of him lying injured on the field. Some of us remember Willie Mays, in his early 40s, trying to play one last year for the New York Mets, watching the once sleek and graceful outfielder stumbling around the bases. There are countless examples of this in the sports world, and everyone has their favorite story or memory. Other examples can also be found in all other areas of life, from politics to academe. What we find in the university is, perhaps, not as exciting as what happens in athletics, but the fading academic can be just as poignant and compelling (the stuff of novels).

Although we don’t hear many such stories in academe (probably because few care about such matters outside of the university), we all have experienced some version of this. At conferences and other venues, one can hear the chatter about someone, now well into their seventies or older, still teaching from decades old notes or falling asleep at faculty meetings and during student advising hours. We forget about how cruel we were when we were younger. And, ultimately, we face these decisions about ourselves. This is the story I want to tell, but certainly not in a way that would ever suggest that I was anything like a superstar at what I do.

I am on the faculty of an information school, and I was recruited nearly thirty years ago to come as an untenured lecturer, start a program in archival studies, and pursue my own doctorate. It was a strange time. Then, in my late thirties, and with no real intention of staying there after I finished the degree, I alternated between faculty member and doctoral student, not always without some awkwardness. Full of energy and enthusiasm, I completed the degree while writing two other books, something that amazes me today. How did I do this? And should anyone else ever attempt such a foolhardy stunt?

Because I was recruited in a field with few individuals qualified to serve as faculty, I was invited into a tenure stream position and moved through the academic chutes and ladders game to become a tenured associate professor and then to a full professor. From arrival in 1988 to full professor in 2000 now seems like a dream. No one called me a wunderkind, but there were times when I felt that way. However, somewhere along the way I crossed over the peak and began a downhill slide, not in mental acuity but certainly in physical stamina.

What has happened between 1988 and today? Without question, the major change has been in the university itself. During this period we passed into the corporate university stage where revenue emerged as the priority. Everything — teaching, research, and even service — began to become increasingly measured by the dollars brought in. Given the nature of the up and down economy, the costs of technology, and the issue of assessment and compliance at every turn we take, none of this was a real surprise. However, it seemed to happen much faster than any of us expected. I imagined I was feeling like the laboratory frog slowly put to sleep, then death in a beaker of water slowing rising in temperature. This prompted me to write a book, The Demise of the Library School: Reflections on Professional Education in the Corporate University, that few seemed to read or, if they did, didn’t want to talk about it.

Physically, and in other ways, I have changed. Three years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, and as I adjusted my lifestyle, this has involved bouts of fatigue and other issues that I was unaccustomed to dealing with. Accompanying this, but not in a cause-and-effect relationship, was deteriorating vision caused by developing cataracts (correctible, but not yet to the point where this should be done). So, I walk more slowly, take naps more often, and more deliberately pace myself in my teaching and research projects. Through this, I seemed to be productive to others, but I felt like I was accomplishing less than I used to in the past. As I completed my annual reviews, at our school a fair and comprehensive process that we all like t whine about, I witnessed a decline in productivity as compared to other faculty members, now all of whom were much younger and more energetic than myself.

All of this is quite natural, of course, but it has had an effect on how I view myself. For a long time I assumed I would work until I turn seventy, mainly because I love what I do. I enjoy the research process, and the extended bouts of reading and reflecting required doing this. I also love the interaction with the increasingly younger students, leading them in discussion and their research, learning as much from them as I imparted to them. And working with bright new and younger faculty colleagues also brought riches with it, always stretching me intellectually. But other things have started to happen that have caused me to question my own plans at the end of the career.

Recently, our new Chancellor challenged the various schools and other academic units to envision the grand challenges we wanted to engage. However he may have articulated this I am unsure about, but the conversation seemed to quickly evolve into the prospects of wealth and other treasures and riches. Soon we seemed not to be thinking about education or learning but about ways we could stimulate new revenue streams, all with a kind of Wall Street cache about it. This was, I believe, not the result of anything our Dean did (I have great confidence in him), but it was probably the result of the corporate-think and -speak that had been slowly emerging over the past decade and more. Whatever its cause, I found the conversation dispiriting and upsetting, and I faced a weekend (the meeting was on Friday) of soul-searching.

The intent of the grand challenges approach was to get us to grapple with the future, something I had focused on quite bit in my own field and was, in fact, just putting the finishing touches on such a paper for conference looming just ahead. And this where things got interesting. 4Sandwiched in between this faculty meeting and my travel to the conference was my birthday, my sixty-fifth one, a milestone by any means of contemporary social measure. What I realized was that my sense of the future was a considerably truncated version of the ones being dreamt by the much younger faculty I most closely worked with (now ranging from thirty to forty years). Any discussion about grand strategic objectives that set our future seemed irrelevant to me. My future, at least as a faculty member, seemed to be no longer than five tears; that of my colleagues ranged from 25 to 40 years. Why would I want to divert their attention to my views that were so shorter?

Upon considering this, I relaxed quite a bit. I conferred with one of my younger colleagues about her taking over my administrative responsibilities, something she was quite eager to do (of course!). Following a few short meetings to make sure this was acceptable to the program chair (and, presumably, the Dean), it was announced to the faculty. The faculty warmly greeted the new program leader, but not a word was said regarding me. So much for almost three decades of work in building the specialization, including both masters and doctoral students. I was not surprised by any of this, but it was, nevertheless, a bit disappointing (although it reinforced my decision to hand over the responsibility to another faculty member).

While I was at the conference, I commented on the change in leadership and this caused some comments. Some figured I had been deposed. Some believed this because they could not imagine a senior faculty member just handing over such a responsibility. Others wondered if the younger faculty member had different plans for the specialization, to which I replied, probably. This prompted me to explain that at my school we liked to have faculty teaching from different perspectives, believing that it shaped a better educational experience for the students. This seemed to cause more concern and questions, making me wonder if what I had just done was more unusual than I thought.

I do not know what the near future holds. If my health stays good and I continue to enjoy my teaching and research, I fully expect that these years will be positive and a good transition into retirement. Of course, in retirement, I envision having more time to read, write, and paint, and hope that some of my most successful writing, by which I mean meaningful to me even if not published anywhere, will occur.