CIL 2010: Conversations with the Archivist of the United States

Speakers: “Collector in Chief” David Ferriero interviewed by Paul Holdengräber

Many people don’t know what the archivist does. They often think that the National Archives are a part of the Library of Congress. In fact, the agency is separate.

Ferriero is the highest ranking librarian in the administration. It’s usually a historian or someone with connections to the administration. He was surprised to get the appointment, and had been expecting to head the IMLS instead.

He is working to create a community around the records and how they are being used. His blog talks about creating citizen archivists. In addition, he is working to declassify 100 million documents a year. There is an enormous backlog of these documents going back to WWII. Each record must be reviewed by the agency who initially classified them, and there are 2400 classification guides that are supposed to be reviewed every five years, but around 50% of them have not.

You can’t have an open government if you don’t have good records. When records are created, they need to be ready to migrate formats as needed. There will be a meeting between the chief information officers and the record managers to talk about how to tackle this problem. These two groups have historically not communicated very well.

He’s also working to open up the archives to groups that we don’t often think of being archive users. There will be programs for grade school groups, and more than just tours.

Large digitization projects with commercial entities lock up content for periods of time, including national archives. He recognizes the value that commercial entities bring to the content, but he’s concerned about the access limitations. This may be a factor in what is decided when the contract with Ancestry.com is up.

“It’s nice having a boss down the street, but not, you know, in my face.” (on having not yet met President Obama)

Ferriero thinks we need to save smarter and preserve more digital content.