About the National Archives

Plenary Session August 3, 2006

Joint Annual Meeting with the Society of American Archivists and the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators

Remarks by Allen Weinstein, Archivist of the United States
August 3, 2006, Washington, DC

Good morning and welcome to Washington, DC, headquarters of the National Archives and Records Administration, but a great deal of the business of this agency is done across the country. As you know, the National Archives enjoys a presence in 20 states and the District of Columbia, counting regional archives and records centers, Presidential libraries, and affiliated archives.

I am pleased to report that the National Archives Building in downtown DC, as many of you saw last night, is back in operation following a shutdown as a result of flooding in late June, which knocked out electrical power. I am also very pleased to assure one and all that there was no water damage to any records in the building.

Our headquarters building on the Mall is special because it holds the nation’s founding documents, the Charters of Freedom: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. But there is so much more to the National Archives, and despite our higher profile in recent years, we face a simple challenge: Many people don’t know what we do, or what we have.

The National Archives Experience and other programs and exhibits have greatly increased our public visibility. And a recent feature film, National Treasure, although not rooted in fact, nonetheless sparked interest in the National Archives.

In addition, the books and articles that have flowed from our exhibits and programs and new findings in the records we hold have helped to raise our public profile.

But it is clear we must be advocates for what we have in our holdings to make the public more aware not only of the records we hold as the nation’s record keeper, but of their importance.

We need to be aggressive in letting the public know how much records matter to them, not only as citizens in a democracy but as individuals in their daily lives—the records of their government and the records pertaining to them personally.

To help us get the message out, we also look to partnerships, and our chief partner is the Foundation for the National Archives. Its generous support made possible the Public Vaults permanent exhibit, the McGowan Theater, and the O’Brien Gallery, as well as the Archives Shop, which it operates.

Simply put, we must be advocates, not only of the importance of records, but of their preservation and accessibility to everyone in a vibrant democracy.

To that end, we in the archives profession must also be concerned about the level of civic awareness among the citizenry. That is why we at the National Archives have embedded “civic education” into our Strategic Plan for the coming decade.

Early in my tenure as Archivist, someone asked me if “education” really belonged among the core activities of the National Archives. Wasn’t it a potential distraction from our core mission to preserve and provide access to records?

I was emphatic in my response: Without an essential level of civic literacy in the general population, the meaning and importance of government records would be lost on a population that had no knowledge of the nation’s history.

This is a mission we will carry out through our new online Learning Center based in Washington as well as through education, museum, communications, and public outreach programs in Washington and at all our facilities around the country.

We have also received a major assist from our guest speaker and his colleagues at C-SPAN.

Brian is a native of Indiana—a Hoosier—born and raised in Lafayette, where he displayed an interest in broadcasting as a child—building his own crystal radio sets to bring in local signals.

In high school and at Purdue University, he had jobs on local radio and TV stations, spinning records and selling ads. Eventually, he got his own show, Dance Date.

After graduating from Purdue, he served in the Navy, with postings in the Johnson White House and the Pentagon public affairs office. His Navy service complete, he returned to Lafayette.

But Washington fever was strong, and soon our speaker was back. He did freelance work for UPI radio, served as a Senate press secretary, and was a staffer on the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy—about the time a national strategy for communications satellites was being crafted.

In 1974, he began publishing a biweekly newsletter, The Media Report, and for a time was Washington bureau chief for Cablevision magazine. Three years later, in what would later be acknowledged as an historic moment, he won the support of key executives in the cable industry for a channel that would deliver gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Congress, and thus was born the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, or C-SPAN.

Since it first televised a session of the House of Representatives on March 19, 1979, C-SPAN has become not only an essential part of our news and entertainment media, but a key player in promoting civic education. Today, C-SPAN consists of three cable TV channels, C-SPAN radio, and a variety of education programs that reach into schools all over the country.

C-SPAN offers gavel-to-gavel coverage of the House and Senate, live telecasts of important committee meetings as well as supplemental programs such as Booknotes, where our speaker has interviewed Presidents, world leaders, and other writers. He also hosts Washington Journal, the morning call-in show, and once a week moderates Q and A, the Sunday night interview program.

From time to time, C-SPAN has brought its cameras and microphones to the National Archives for special events and interviews.

He developed the idea of the C-SPAN school bus that travels the country, a brilliant concept. It has not only visited the National Archives but has also visited each of the Presidential libraries and has been an enormous help in getting out the message about our programs and initiatives.

Under his leadership, C-SPAN has become a great American civic educator.

I salute our speaker and introduce him to you: Mr. Brian Lamb.