About the National Archives

Archivist's Speeches: John W. Carlin, Lecture delivered in Hutchinson and Emporia, Kansas (1998)

John W. Carlin
Archivist of the United States

Lecture delivered in Hutchinson and Emporia, Kansas
March 2, 1998

I'm grateful that you've come to hear this lecture, because I can easily imagine why you might not come. "Archivist of the United States"--what is that? "Director of the National Archives and Records Administration"--how boring. To many of you, the words "records" and "archives" automatically conjure up images of dark vaults full of dusty papers kept under lock and key by odd-looking people wearing green eyeshades. Running a federal recordkeeping agency must sound like a dull life, especially compared with other Washington occupations such as being a president or a senator--or a special prosecutor. Well, I've been head of the National Archives nearly three years now, and I'm here to tell you that it's the most amazing job, the most challenging job--and the best job--I've ever had.

Why do I say that? There are three big reasons. One, there is much more to this job than you'd ever guess from it's title. Two, I deal with documents that are fascinating, exciting, and of great significance. And three, this job gives me responsibility for preserving and providing access to records that are nothing less than the essential evidence of the rights of American citizens, the actions of federal officials, and the historical experience of this nation. Meeting that responsibility is critical for maintaining our democracy's health and restoring the public's faith in democratic institutions. As my lecture title suggests, records do have meaning in American life.

First, the size of the job:

There is so much more to the National Archives and Records Administration than I ever would have imagined. NARA (N-A-R-A), as we call our agency for short--and you should never be without an acronym in the federal government--NARA only begins with the grand old National Archives Building in downtown Washington. We also have the huge, new state-of-the-art archives building in College Park, Maryland, and maintain eighteen federal records service centers all over this country, from Boston to San Bruno, from Atlanta to Anchorage. And then we have ten presidential libraries dating back to Hoover and Roosevelt and we just opened the George Bush library and we'll be ready to add Bill Clinton's at the end of his term.

But even that isn't all. NARA also administers the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which makes grants for projects to document history. NARA administers the Information Security Oversight Office, which monitors the classification and declassification of government records. And we administer the Office of the Federal Register, which publishes current information on new records, in effect--federal laws, rules, regulations, executive orders, presidential pronouncements, and public notices of government activities.

All that should make it obvious that I have responsibility for huge amounts of material. Just consider: In our archival facilities, we are now preserving for public use in perpetuity nearly two million cubic feet of textual records--that's billions of individual records--not to mention 2.2 million maps and charts, 2.8 million architectural and engineering plans, 9.2 million aerial photographs, 123,000 motion picture reels, 33,000 video recordings, 178,000 sound recordings, 7,000 computer data sets, and 7.4 million still pictures. Our new archives facility alone contains more than 500 miles of shelving, which end-to-end would stretch from Kansas City the entire length of Kansas west and well into Colorado. And that doesn't count the millions of items in our presidential libraries, where you not only can use presidential records and records donated by members of presidential administrations, but where you can also see exhibits of historical artifacts that document the nation's history during each presidency.

Let me, however, go on to the really big item: We are the National Archives and Records Administration. I emphasize NARA's full title because in addition to the two million cubic feet or so of records in our archives, there are also more than eighteen million cubic feet that we keep for federal agencies in our records services centers--records that remain useful to the agencies but no longer require being kept in their own offices. Moreover, NARA has responsibilities for helping federal agencies manage records, including the thousands of new records that the government generates every day. What that means is that we help the White House and the Congress and the courts and all the hundreds of federal agencies understand what records to make and keep. We help them keep and use those records efficiently. And then we keep in our archives the ones of continuing public value. Bottom line--NARA has responsibilities for the effectiveness of your federal government's recordkeeping as a whole.

Now if that isn't exciting enough, consider what's in the records to which we provide access, which is the second major reason I love this job.

Earlier this year, at our Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, I listened to President Johnson's voice on tapes that we have been opening to the public there. LBJ taped many of his telephone calls, and this one was to Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, with whom he discussed decisions that had to be made about the Vietnam War. These tapes provide a unique access opportunity for historians, whose perspective on President Johnson will likely be affected by hearing him express his thoughts and feelings directly and personally. It certainly was an exciting and revealing experience for me.

But the range of fascinating treasures in our archives is unending. We have linen-bound records of the Continental Congress, bound volumes of records of the Civil War, and electronic lists of casualties of the War in Vietnam. We have the Emancipation Proclamation, the Monroe Doctrine, the Louisiana Purchase, the Marshall Plan, and the famous Nixon Watergate tapes. Our records document subjects ranging from Bella Abzug to Charles Zwick, from ABSCAM to the Zapruder film of the Kennedy Assassination, from the Bureau of Aeronautics to the White House from Aberdeen, Maryland, to Zanesville, Ohio. There's lots on Kansas in our collections, by the way, including records on federally appointed marshals going back to the 1860s.

And out of all these recorded riches, we put various documents on exhibit from time to time, so that you can see the real originals. Currently in the National Archives Building in Washington, we're displaying the Articles of Confederation, the first report of the Battle of Little Bighorn, the field journal of the surveyors of the Mason-Dixon line, a document written by John Quincy Adams in the Amistad case that is now popularized in a movie, documentary photos of children working in coal mines, immigration papers of Cary Grant and Greta Garbo, Joseph Glidden's patent for barbed wire, and--of special interest to Kansans--a federal warrant issued for the arrest of Wyatt Earp as a horse thief. (1)

Closer to home, if you visit the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, you'll find exhibits that include one called"Gifts from the Heart,"a collection of exceptional objects that admiring Americans gave to Ike. If you visit our Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, you'll currently see, among other displays, one entitled,"Dear Bess: Love Letters of the President."(2) This exhibit includes some letters from her to him, in spite of the fact that she was thought to have burned them. The story was that he tried to stop her, pleading,"Think of history!"To which she replied,"I am!"

But you don't need to just listen to me tell about these fascinating resources. You can explore them on your own. Make a note of the Web site address of the National Archives and Records Administration: www.archives.gov. When you go home, turn on a computer with an internet connection at your home or office or wherever, and go to that address: www.archives.gov. There you will gain access to an astonishing trove of documentary treasure. You will find on-line images of more than 40,000 original documents and photographs, to which we'll be adding another 90,000 in the coming year. Items available already range from Matthew Brady's Civil War photographs to photos from the Kennedy White House. We also have an On-Line Exhibit Hall, where the current offerings include an exhibit of photos and memos entitled,"When Nixon Met Elvis."And if that isn't enough, through our Web site, you can electronically access the NARA Archival Information Locator--"NAIL,"as we fondly call it-- where you can begin your hunt for whatever research material you need without leaving the computer in your home or office. You can make use of finding aids to vast amounts of the material in our holdings without ever going near them. And you won't be alone. In 1996, we recorded slightly more than 45,000"hits." In 1997, that number increased more than five-fold, to more than 245,000 hits. And if the current rate holds up, hits may exceed 400,000 before the end of 1998.

Do not however stop there. Check also into the quantity of current government information that is available from NARA on-line. You can access the Federal Register, which averages 275 pages daily, and you can also access the Code of Federal Regulations, all of whose 200 volumes are being put on-line.

What good is this material? Well, government agulagencies use Federal Register notices to inform the public about what they are doing, often for the purpose of inviting public comment. Federal Register publications alert the public to current regulations and proposed government rules and activities affecting almost everything. Lawyers and people in all kinds of business make use of this information regularly. We're getting more than 5 million"hits"per month--that is, more than 5 million monthly retrievals of information from the on-line versions of our Federal Register publications. These are NARA's most used resources.

And that--the use of our resources--brings me to the third part of why being Archivist of the United States is my most challenging and rewarding job ever. I have learned much that I didn't know about the meaning of records in the lives of Americans--and in the life of our democracy. To explain this, let me start with the most famous and most important records in NARA's vast collection. I'm speaking of the Charters of American Freedom that we preserve on display in the rotunda in the National Archives in Washington--the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.

You may have read in the paper that President Clinton is asking the Congress for money with which to help us replace their protective encasements, so that, as he said in his address on the State of the Union,"the generations of the 21st century can see for themselves the images and the words that are the old and continuing glory of America . . . .".(3) You may have seen Mrs. Clinton on television describing this project as part of the White House Millennium Celebration program, which the President and the First Lady launched in the National Archives rotunda. Why do we go to so much expense and trouble to be sure that these documents survive?

Well, every year some 1.3 million people come to the National Archives to see these documents because they provide, as one visitor put it,"the all-important physical link to the foundations of America."My staff have endless stories of how highly many of those people have valued that experience.

For example, an employee of NARA took her seventeen-year-old son to see the Charters, and she could hardly believe what happened afterwards. This teenager became so interested that when he returned home he made a change in images on his bedroom wall. Down came a poster of a scantily clad young lady from the"Baywatch" television show. Up went the Declaration of Independence!

After Senator Trent Lott, the majority leader of the United States Senate, visited the Charters, he wrote a column to his constituents entitled,"Powerful Documents Inspire a Nation." In it he said,"We preserve the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, not because they are our past, but because they remain the foundation for our future."(4) Which is true, as the young man I described may also have realized.

We preserve and display the Charters not just because they are old and interesting. They are also the signed, official"record"copies of the documents that justify our independence as a nation, establish our government, and define our rights. They are the essential evidence of the legitimacy of those things. And we apply the content of these documents daily throughout our nation, just as we continue to debate their meaning in cases that ultimately get decided by the Supreme Court. They do have current, on-going significance in our lives.

But--not these documents alone.

A whole lot of kinds of records--new ones as well as old ones, obscure ones as well as famous ones--are meaningful in people's lives. Let me give you another kind of example.

As I was preparing for this lecture, the United States Government was preparing to resume military action against the government of Iraq. The Gulf War originally began, you recall, when Iraq made an attempt to take over the nation of Kuwait. But it was more than the borders of Kuwait that Iraq intended to erase. It was also the separate identity of Kuwait's people. One of the United Nations' resolutions that led to the Gulf War was a condemnation of attempts by Iraq (and I quote)"to destroy the civil records maintained by the legitimate government of Kuwait."(5)

Why? Because such records document the legitimacy of a government. And such records document whatever legal standing, rights, and entitlements the citizens of a country have. However democratic or undemocratic Kuwait itself may have been, Saddam Hussein certainly understood that getting rid of records, or otherwise denying access to them, makes it a lot easier to end a nation's independence and subjugate its citizens. The Serbs in the Bosnian War understood that, too, when they shelled the National Library in Sarajevo along with other cultural institutions.(6) And when the founding fathers and mothers of our own country revolted against the king of Great Britain, the charges they made against him in the Declaration of Independence included this:"He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records . . . ."

Not that Americans have subsequently done all that well in protecting our public records. We know of many losses in government records before the National Archives and Records Administration was even conceived. Fires in 1800 and 1801 destroyed records of value in the War Department and the Treasury. Clerks lost other records in the scramble to remove them to safety as the British advanced on Washington in the War of 1812. According to one story, the Constitution was temporarily stowed in a sack. More records were lost to fires that destroyed the Treasury, Patent Office, and Post Office in Washington in the 1830s, and partly destroyed the Interior Department in 1877 and the War Department in 1881. Later in the 19th century, the Declaration of Independence was fading so badly in the old State-War-Navy Building that it had to be removed from display there. A fire in the Commerce Department in 1921 destroyed the census records of 1890. And"to this day,"an American historian recently wrote, "whenever we do research we hit this blank."(7)

It was not until 1936 that our government actually built a National Archives in which to secure its precious documents.(8) It was even later that the Archivist's authority expanded to cover recordkeeping in general. And even now I don't think enough ordinary Americans fully understand why documents are so precious and recordkeeping so important for people's lives.

Therefore, let me tell you about some Americans who do understand.

Every year, on Constitution Day, I participate in a ceremony in the rotunda of the National Archives Building where the Charters of Freedom are on display. In this ceremony, a group of people who were born outside the United States complete the process by which they become naturalized citizens. NARA keeps records of their citizenship, as we do the records of other naturalized citizens across the nation. And we get requests for copies of such records all the time.

Elderly people seek such evidence to prove that they are entitled to Social Security and Medicare benefits. Our staffs in several parts of the country report that some senior citizens they have helped were facing denial of nursing-home care or even eviction, including an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease. Records do matter in people's lives.

Our staff members who deal with military personnel records in St. Louis and other facilities have helped veterans get jobs by providing evidence of previous training and other qualifications. They have helped veterans qualify for low-interest mortgages by verifying service records. They have helped widows secure benefits by documenting the military service of their deceased husbands. And one day, staff in our Pacific-Alaska Region received a photo of a grateful elderly man on whose shirt a VA hospital nurse had pinned a medal to which we had verified his entitlement. Again, records do matter in people's lives.

Our records have helped Americans deal with medical problems. Our casualty records have enabled Vietnam veterans to support claims for benefits related to post-traumatic stress disorders. Doctors about to perform heart bypass surgery on a veteran sent an urgent request one morning to staff in our Central Plains Region for a copy of a report on a previous operation on their patient, which we were able to provide in time. Our staff in San Francisco helped a sick and homeless veteran get off the street and into a VA hospital. And our Alaska facility enabled an elderly man in a tiny hamlet near the Aleutians to verify his eligibility for government medical assistance. Records sometimes do matter in keeping people alive.

People use our records in attempting to find out what happened to relatives who were prisoners of war or missing in action in the nation's wars. Many families are finding information about lost loved ones in records of the Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs that our Center for Legislative Archives has made accessible with a database index. Researchers from the Defense Department's Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office have praised staff of our Johnson Presidential Library and other facilities for locating material of use to them. Staff in our Washington National Records Center helped an Air Force colonel find what he called"missing keys"to locating documentation on large numbers of Korean War POWs and MIA cases. Records are important for determining what happened to people's lives.

Some kinds of requests for records are frequent. Calls come continuously from members of the press and the media seeking photos, film clips, and various kinds of information. Lawyers search in our facilities regularly for records of use in litigating cases. Every day staff in our facilities help hundreds of grateful genealogists trace their family histories. Researchers in business, finance, and economics do a lot of analysis of records, including import and export records, which proved of value in negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement. Environmental researchers from the Federal Government, state governments, and the private sector regularly use a variety of records to figure out what substances are contaminating certain parcels of land, and who is responsible for financing the clean-up. Our Carter Library provided records that the Justice Department considered critical in winning a case against a chemical company that had to pay back the government for clean-up costs. In fact Government agencies themselves are among the most frequent users of our record holdings.

Other kinds of requests are highly individual. Our Eisenhower Library verified that a painting sold at Sotheby's was in fact by the president, and helped a fashion designer locate items for a retrospective of his work. Our Washington staff helped a World War II veteran find not only the picture he sought of the type of anti-aircraft gun he had operated, but even a photo of him with it. Our National Personnel Reference Center provided records of help to the Illinois State Police in dealing with an individual who had threatened a state senator. A member of our Pacific-Alaska Region staff found on his desk one day a bag of corn from a grateful farmer who had been able to prove, with federal records, that the Army Corps of Engineers had built a dike on the wrong place on his farm. You see, records do matter in people's lives in all sorts of ways.

People who have suffered use our records. Japanese Americans used records in our Center for Legislative Archives and California facilities to verify their right to reparations for internment during World War II. A German woman, born while her father was commanding a U-boat in World War II, learned that he knew of her birth before he died when a National Archives staff member found for her a decoded message that had gone to her father's boat, saying, "Oh by the way, captain, you are now the father of a girl!"A group of women, survivors of a Nazi death march who were planning a commemorative reunion, found in our National Archives collections records of their liberation including film footage. Records certainly touched these people's lives.

And the search of Holocaust survivors and their families for records is a huge story in itself. You've all seen or heard reports in the press about efforts to trace"Nazi Gold,"looted from victims of the Holocaust. On February 13, President Clinton signed the Holocaust Victims Redress Act, which provides, among other things, for additional"archival research,"in the President's words,"to set the historical record straight."(9) Much research already has been undertaken in the National Archives. Last year the Department of State issued a Preliminary Study of U.S. and Allied Efforts to Recover and Restore Gold and Other Assets Stolen or Hidden by Germany During World War II, along with a Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park. In his preface to our finding aid, Dr. William Slany, the Historian of the Department of State, declared, concerning the preliminary study of Nazi looting, that"All of the research depended directly upon the unfailing support, assistance, and encouragement of the Archivist of the United States and the staff of the National Archives and Records Administration. Our work simply could not have been carried out without this assistance. . . ."(10) In his foreword to the Preliminary Study itself, State Department Undersecretary Stuart E. Eisenstat described that work as follows:

All involved have worked tirelessly in beginning the process of reviewing 15 million pages of documentation in the National Archives. This represents the largest such effort ever undertaken using the Archives' records, and it has required the declassification and transfer of more documents at one time--between 800,000 and one million pages--than ever before in the history of that repository.(11)

On the floor of the United States Senate, Senator Alfonse D'Amato of New York mentioned by name many NARA staff members whose help he called"indispensable" in the search for"Nazi gold.""The National Archives,"he said,"has been nothing less than amazing."(12)

Yes, our work with records touches people's lives in all the direct ways that I have described, but also indirectly, and including lives of Americans yet to come. We document the nation's history. What will our descendants decide in the 21st century about those two presidential events that were cataclysmic for those of us who lived through them in the 20th: the assassination of President Kennedy, and the resignation of President Nixon? Future assessment will depend greatly on the famous Nixon White House tape recordings, which we are now processing for release on an accelerated schedule, and on records being released by the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board with our assistance.

Look at any list of recent history books: Ken Gormley's biography of Archibald Cox, Jeff Shesol's study of the feud between Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, books by Gareth Davies and Irwin Unger on the Great Society, Robert Schulzinger's book on the Vietnam War, and edited volumes of taped conversations from the Johnson Administration by Michael Beschloss and the Kennedy Administration by Ernest May and Philip Zelikow. In all of them you will find acknowledgment of help from NARA's presidential libraries and other facilities. As James Hilty observed in the introduction to his biography of Robert Kennedy, for which he drew on the resources of our Kennedy Presidential Library,"Archivists, of course, are historians' lifelines. Without them, we aimlessly drift."(13)

Many historical documentary films also rely on archival records, photographs, and other images in our collections. And sometimes we are even directly involved. Our Truman Library has premiered a 45-minute documentary of Truman's life, directed by Charles Guggenheim and narrated by Truman biographer David McCullough of television history fame. Staff members from our Central Plains Region are interviewed in programs recently premiered on the history of Leavenworth and other federal prisons.

And of course many of our facilities offer tours, workshops, lectures, seminars, publications, film screenings, dramatic presentations, and special events as well as exhibits based on the holdings of the National Archives. We even offer students and teachers an electronically accessible"Digital Classroom." We receive wonderful letters from adults and from kids thanking us for educational programs. Some of these letters also make you think about what those experiences really could mean. Children who visited our Roosevelt Library reported having,"fun,"quote,"using a special computer that allowed us to make presidential decisions."One parent thanked our staff there for a tour given to her child, quote--"a future president."!

Now, in dictatorships, this does not happen. Children did not write to Stalin and Hitler about being inspired to take over as heads of government or learning how. Under authoritarian regimes, government records tend not to support rights, entitlements, public insight, and political understanding. Instead government files support surveillance, suspicion, political suppression, and prosecution. There, records have another kind of meaning in people's lives.

But even in a democracy there is danger. When records are missing, intentionally or not, how can people assert their entitlements, document what government has done, hold officials accountable, and maintain faith in their government? Will service people who became ill after the Gulf War ever know if exposure to chemicals had something to do with it? Last October a story in the Washington Post carried the headline,"Gulf War Logs on Chemicals Reported Lost in Office Move."(14) If the CIA destroyed documents on many of its operations, can the Congress keep it under control? In a recent article about CIA activities, Theodore Draper wrote: "In a democratic system, a department or office or agency which can wholly control its records and destroy them at will makes itself virtually impervious to criticism and control."(15)

But in this area we are making some progress. For one thing, thanks to support from an executive order from President Clinton, we are helping agencies declassify historically valuable documents at an accelerating rate. More than 70 per cent of all records declassified in the 17 years since 1980 have been declassified in just the past three years--nearly 470 million pages. And we'll get help with other problems as well if the Congress approves the budget just submitted by President Clinton, who is asking one of the largest increases ever in NARA's base budget. But as the Moynihan Commission on government secrecy has recently pointed out, huge amounts of material still remain unavailable through security classification. And that is only one of the challenges we face in trying to ensure that the records Americans need will be preserved and accessible.

Many of the records we already hold need special preservation treatment to stop deterioration caused by acidic paper, acetate-based film, and other hazards. The sheer volume of records with which we must cope has mushroomed by more than one-third in just the past decade. Our holdings have been increasing by more than one-half million cubic feet of records per year, and we've about run out of space just to house them adequately. On top of that is a new and tougher challenge. In addition to paper records, government computers are now producing enormous volumes of electronic mail, word-processing documents, and automated databases. Electronic records already scheduled to come to us in the near future will increase by more than 266 times the volume we currently hold: that is, from 90 thousand files to 24 million. We are trying to cope not only with the volume but with the special problems that these records pose. Electronic material is easily deleted. Computer tapes and disks quickly deteriorate. And the hardware and software systems on which they can be read become rapidly obsolete. And as we struggle with these problems, we get sued in court for not solving them fast enough.

What worries us and those who sue us alike is this: the Federal Government, along with everybody else in the age of digitized information, is losing unknown amounts of potentially valuable material. We have paper dispatches that generals sent and received in the course of conducting the Civil War more than a hundred years ago, but a hundred years from now will electronic records remain accessible on which to study command decisions in the Gulf War? Or, just to take the current daily headlines, how much of the record material accumulating in the computers of the independent prosecutor will survive deletion, deterioration, and the discarding of machinery that can read it? Maybe you have seen, on public television, a new documentary entitled,"Into the Future,"which explains why all this digital information we are generating may not survive.(16) At a conference last month at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, participants warned that society, and I quote,"is courting disaster."For, as one participant said,"Historians will look back on this era and see a period of very little information. A ‘digital gap’ will span from the beginning of the wide-spread use of the computer until the time we eventually solve this problem."Let me tell you, there is no question about such a gap. The only question is, how big will it get before we learn how to preserve and provide ready access to vast quantities of electronic documents?

To meet the challenges, we at NARA have recently adopted a Strategic Plan, which you can access on our Web site. It contains no magic, but neither does it back away from our mission, which we've summed up as this: to provide ready access to essential evidence that documents the rights of citizens, the actions of federal officials, and the national experience. And against all kinds of obstacles--mushrooming quantities of physically unstable electronic records, huge backlogs of deteriorating paper-based records, mountains of material not yet declassified, and insufficient quantities of staff and space--we're going to carry out that mission because the need for records in our lives won't go away. Open government, accountable to the people, requires open records, accessible to the people.

The greatest revelation for me as Archivist of the United States has come in the realization that every time we help the White House and agencies of our government keep better records; every time we provide ready access to records that are useful and beneficial to people; every time we come up with records that help people document their identities and verify their entitlements to rights and benefits as citizens, we are contributing to the health of democracy itself. Every time our records enable people to analyze the actions of their government and hold their officials responsible, every time we help people figure out what really happened in our history and assess the meaning of it--I repeat, every time we do those things, we are contributing to the health of democracy itself. And at a time when voter turnout indicates voter apathy, and polls are showing that Americans' faith in their institutions is low, it is more important than ever that Americans be able to count on the federal agency that is supposed to be zealously and impartially documenting their rights, their government's actions, and what is significant in their history. Records do matter enormously in the life of our democratic nation.

Our mission is so important that the Congress made the National Archives and Records Administration, which used to be part of another organization, an independent agency, and took steps to insulate the Archivist of the United States from political pressure. Our role in the government is unique. The public must be able to trust NARA for independent judgment and objective action to make essential evidence readily accessible. And with that in mind, let me conclude with two examples that I think sum up in real-life terms a good deal of what I am trying to say about the meaning of records in American life, in maintaining a healthy democracy, and in resurrecting faith in its institutions.

A member of our staff told me the story of a woman who came to one of our facilities in search of records to establish her eligibility for educational support available to Native Americans. We found the records she sought, but they did not support her claim. Nonetheless, as a staff member recorded,"She thanked me for our assistance and said how glad she was that NARA held the records. I asked her why, and she told me that had she seen the same records at a BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] office or the tribal office, she would have been suspicious that something was being withheld."She was satisfied, our staff member reported,"because the records were in the hand of an unbiased third party--NARA."

The second example has to do with our electronic database, the National Archives Information Locator,"NAIL,"which I previously described as being an increasingly used way to find out what is in our record holdings. One of NAIL's users said, in a reply message that we received,"Thanks for allowing us to access this most important database. This assures me that we are a government ‘of the people, by the people'."

Ladies and gentlemen, I trust it is now clear why I find this job so exciting, so challenging, and so meaningful.

Thank you very much.


1. For detailed and illustrated information on major historical documents in the National Archives, see also Milestone Documents in the National Archives (Washington, DC: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1995), and Herman J. Viola, The National Archives of the United States (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 1984). Return to text.

2. Information on current exhibits at the National Archives facilities in Washington, DC, and College Park, MD, is available in NARA's monthly Calendar of Events, which is accessible by mail or via the Internet at www.nar.gov/nara/events/calendar. Persons interested in exhibits, events, and material available from all NARA facilities may also subscribe to NARA's printed newsletter, The Record, News from the National Archives and Records Administration. Return to text.

3. Washington Post, 28 Jan. 1998: A25. Return to text.

4. Natchez Democrat, Natchez, MS, 28 Sept. 1997. Reprinted in The Record, News from the National Archives and Records Administration, 4.3 (Jan. 1998): 6. Return to text.

5. U.N. Security Council, Resolution 677, 28 Nov. 1990. Return to text.

6. Mark Danner,"Bosnia: The Turning Point,"The New York Review of Books, XLV.2 (5 Feb. 1998): 34. Return to text.

7. Charles B. Hosmer, Jr.,"The Roots of AASLH,"Local History, National Heritage, Reflections on the History of AASLH (Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1991): 10. Information on fires also follows Victor Gondos, Jr., J. Franklin Jameson and the Birth of the National Archives, 1906-1926 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981): 3-7. On the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, see also Milton O. Gustafson,"The Empty Shrine: The Transfer of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to the National Archives, American Archivist, 39.3 (July 1976): 272 et passim. Return to text.

8. On the history of the National Archives, see Donald R. McCoy, The National Archives, America's Ministry of Documents, 1934-1968 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1978), and Timothy Walch, ed., Guardian of Heritage, Essays on the History of the National Archives (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1985). Return to text.

9."Statement by the President,"issued by the Office of the Press Secretary, The White House, 13 Feb. 1998. Return to text.

10. William Z. Slany,"Preface,"U.S. Efforts to Recover and Restore Gold and Other Assets Stolen or Hidden by Germany During World War II, Finding Aid to Records at the National Archives at College Park, prepared by Greg Bradsher and coordinated by Stuart E. Eizenstat, Department of State Publication 10469, May 1997: xiii. Return to text.

11. Stuart E. Eizenstat,"Foreword,"U.S. and Allied Efforts to Recover and Restore Gold and Other Assets Stolen or Hidden by Germany During World War II, Preliminary Study, coordinated by Stuart E. Eizenstat, prepared by William Z. Slany, Department of State Publication 10468, May 1997: iii. Return to text.

12. Alfonse D'Amato,"Commending All Those Assisting the Senate Banking Committee Inquiry into Holocaust Assets,"Congressional Record (105th Congress, First Session) 143.86 (19 June 1997). Return to text.

13. James W. Hilty, Robert Kennedy, Brother, Protector (Philadelphia: Temple University Press): xi. Return to text.

14. Washington Post, 24 Oct. 1997, A17. Return to text.

15."Is the CIA Necessary?"The New York Review of Books, 44.13 (14 Aug. 1997): 20. Return to text.

16. Into the Future, on the Preservation of Knowledge in the Electronic Age, a film by Terry Sanders, American Film Foundation and Sanders & Mock Productions in Association with the Commission on Preservation and Access and the American Council of Learned Societies, 1997. Return to text.