Q&A with National Archivist David Ferriero
300 The Fenway had the opportunity to sit down with Archivist of the United States David Ferriero '74LS who recently stopped by Simmons to deliver the keynote address at the first annual Wikipedia in Higher Education Summit.
As the 10th AOTUS, Ferriero says his biggest challenge is guiding the preservation of electronic records, including social media. Here's what else he had to say about the changing world of archives management and his time at Simmons:
- Q: Tell me about your job as the National Archivist?
- As the archivist of the United States, I am responsible for all of the records of government--the 275 agencies and the White House.
- Q: How does the work that you do, in your opinion, make an impact on the country and society?
- The archives is responsible for not only collecting the records, but more importantly, making them available to the American public so that the American public can hold the government accountable for its actions and to document our history.
- Q: You've mentioned that "you can't have open government, unless you have good records." Can you explain?
- Part of my responsibility is providing guidance to the agencies and the White House on how it's keeping their records. My staff works with the records managers to ensure that those guidelines are being followed, and if they're not being followed then we need to provide some intervention.
The concern has to do with electronic records; since we now have moved from paper into an electronic environment, there is a greater possibility of destruction or loss of records, so the emphasis these days is guidance around electronic records. Throw in social media--Tweets, Facebook pages, and blogs--those are all records. Being able to capture those and be sure that they are going to be around forever, the way paper records are, is the biggest challenge. My work is to ensure [electronic media] are being captured and preserved and transferred to me at the appropriate time so that 100 years from now, people who want to know what was going on in the White House, for instance, are going to have access to that.
You can't have open government, as in terms of access to information, unless those records are preserved. Good records are the backbone of an open government.
- Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges in preserving access to information?
- It's the variety of platforms in which the records are being created, long term storage, and changes in technology. We are building something called the Electronic Records Archive, which will ingest the records being created now, and we are building into it the ability to translate those records into a format that we can migrate over time so that they will be available forever.
- Q: How did your experience at Simmons, in the graduate program and as visiting faculty member, shape your career?
- I think the focus on access to information and user needs really had a huge influence on me. To this moment, I've always looked at how we look from a user's perspective--how can we improve or tailor our services, collections, whatever--from the user's perspective.
- Q: Do you have any advice for people who are starting in their career as archivists?
- Internships, fellowships, on-the-job experience, and volunteering to get a sense of what archive work is all about. You learn so much in the classroom, but you really don't get a sense of what it is like unless you are actually working in an archive, hanging out in an archive, being a researcher in an archive, but also having a love for history, a passion for public service, and for working with people. If you don't like to work with people, don't get into archives.
For more information about Simmons' archives management program, visit the Graduate School of Library and Information Science website, follow GSLIS on Twitter, and like them on Facebook.