Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Inappropriate Behavior at NARA

Here is a copy of a letter I sent to Society of American Archivists leadership. . . .

Nancy Beaumont
Executive Director, Society of American Archivists

Frank Boles
President, Society of American Archivists

Dear Nancy and Frank:

I am writing to you about what I deem to be a very serious matter concerning the behavior of the administrators of the U.S. National Archives as recently brought to light by independent researcher Anthony Clark.

Section VI of SAA’s Code of Ethics states, “Archivists strive to promote open and equitable access to their services and the records in their care without discrimination or preferential treatment, and in accordance with legal requirements, cultural sensitivities, and institutional policies. Archivists recognize their responsibility to promote the use of records as a fundamental purpose of the keeping of archives. Archivists may place restrictions on access for the protection of privacy or confidentiality of information in the records.” The Preamble to the Code states that it “establishes standards for the archival profession. It introduces new members of the profession to those standards, reminds experienced archivists of their professional responsibilities, and serves as a model for institutional policies. It also is intended to inspire public confidence in the profession.” While it acknowledges that the Code only “provides an ethical framework to guide members of the profession” and “does not provide the solution to specific problems,” I believe as a long-time SAA member (35 years) that the spirit of the Code requires SAA leadership to investigate claims into the unprofessional and blatantly unethical behavior of NARA and its leadership.

Mr. Clark recently lectured at the University of Pittsburgh School of Information Sciences and presented disturbing evidence about efforts to deny him access to the records of the Office of Presidential Libraries by a number of NARA officials. I believe he has made a very strong case about the unprofessional, unethical, and perhaps illegal behavior of NARA leadership. You can hear or watch the lecture by going to

You will see this description and can follow the instructions to get access to the lecture. You can also hear my comments about the matter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Anthony Clark, freelance scholar
"Presidential Libraries: The Last Campaign; How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity and Enshrine their Legacies."
Abstract: Mr. Clark is completing a history of the Presidential libraries, a project taking him to every library; evaluating the experiences of visitors to these institutions; interviewing docents, guards, and library staff, including their directors and high-ranking staff at the National Archives; attending public events; working in their public research rooms; and examining the administrative and other files in and about these institutions.
link to : [ video ] To view this video please use the login: lectures and password: public
link to : [ podcast ]

I hope to see SAA take steps to investigate these issues and complaints. I believe the health and reputation of our professional community depends on SAA speaking up about this issue, especially given the steps being taken by President Obama and his administration to open up government and to appoint a new Archivist of the United States. It makes little sense for SAA for list the qualities a new Archivist should possess, if it is not willing to be vocal about investigating and speaking out about these serious allegations of activities engaged in by members of our own professional community.


Richard J. Cox
Professor, Archival Studies