About the National Archives

A Conversation with David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States

Penn State Forum, December 4, 2013

Who is the Archivist?

David S. Ferriero

David S. Ferriero The Archivist of the United States is the head of our agency, appointed by the President of the United States.

The AOTUS Blog
What's an Archivist?


Please continue to enjoy your lunch today, but we would like to go ahead and get started with today's presentation. I'm Katie O'Toole from the College of Communications. And on behalf of the Penn State Forum and our sponsor, the Penn State Bookstore, I'd like to welcome all of you here today to and very special welcome to our guest who as recently as an hour ago we weren't sure if he would be able to make it due to flight delays coming out of Dulles. So we are very happy to have him today. Before we begin, I'd like to remind you that our next Forum presentation will be on January 23rd, where our guest will be Dr. David Teplica. He's both a plastic surgeon and a well regarded photographer, whose work can be found in museums around the country and the world including many private collections. The title of this talk is "Architecture of the Body, Anatomy of Gender, and the Art of Surgical Pleasure." So think about that as you finish your apple pie. That will here in the Ballroom at the Nittany Lion Inn at 11:30. And a big shout out to Cathy Shafee from Ritenour, she is today's winner of lunch and two tickets to a future Penn State Forum. The rest of you just remember to keep jotting your name on the back of your ticket before handing it in at the door and you will be eligible for our next drawing. Sooner or later, you're bound to win. So just keep writing your names on the back there.

Now today's Forum is going to have a slightly different format than usual, in lieu of a formal presentation, Mr. Ferriero, our guest, will have a conversation that will be guided by Tim Pyatt, who is the head of Special Collections at the University Libraries. Now throughout the discussion, you can use notepads and pens as usual at your table to write down any questions that come to mind. And our question takers today are Marcy Panko and Kristen Hannah. Marcy and Kristen, could you please stand up and identify yourselves? So they'll be circulating throughout the room today during the presentation and then following the discussion, Tim Pyatt will ask as many of those questions as time permits. And now to introduce today's guest, please welcome the Penn State Forum chair and University Libraries Dean, Barbara Dewey.


Barbara Dewey: Hello, everyone. I'm so glad to see so many here. It's my pleasure to introduce David Ferriero, who was confirmed on November 9, 2009, as the 10th Archivist of the United States. As Collector in Chief, as David refers to himself in his blog, he oversees over 10 billion pages of textual records, nearly 50 million photographs and graphics, nearly a half million audiovisual records, as well as several hundred terabytes of digital data. These records are located in 17 states and include the National Archives Building on the Capital Mall as well as the Presidential Library system. David came to the National Archives from the New York Public Library where he was the Andrew W. Mellon Director. At NYPL, he integrated four research libraries, and 87 branches into one seamless service for library users, which makes our 24 campuses not seem as big when I read that. (Laughter) Prior to NYPL, David had a distinguished career in academic libraries where he served as Associate Director of Libraries at MIT, and later as University Librarian and Vice Provost at Duke University. David Ferriero represents a number of firsts for the National Archives. First librarian to serve as Archivist of the United States, believe it or not. First Vietnam veteran to serve as Archivist. First Archivist to use social media. First Archivist to appoint a Wikipedian in Residence.

Today you will hear more about David's vision for making the records of the United States truly available to the public. David has chosen to have Tim Pyatt, Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and head of Special Collections Library at Penn State to interview him about his role as 10th Archivist of the U.S. Tim served as University Archivist for David when he led the Duke Libraries and now oversees all of Penn State's Archival and Special Collections. And as was mentioned before, following their conversation, you'll be invited to submit questions. So start writing those questions down.

Now please welcome my friend and good colleague, David Ferriero. (clapping)

David S. Ferriero: Don't go away. The green light didn't go on. Oh you slide it. Can you hear me? Great.

Tim Pyatt:  Well, it's great to have David Ferriero here and it is certainly a pleasure for me to welcome someone to Penn State who I really consider a friend, mentor, and someone who's career I've really admired. As Barbara mentioned, I had the pleasure of working for David at Duke University, and I really do credit David for a lot for the kind of training and that has led me to be able to hold the Huck Chair here at Penn State.

David S. Ferriero: Where did I find you?

Tim Pyatt:  You found me at the University of North Carolina.

David S. Ferriero: That's the best thing that happened. (laughter)

Tim Pyatt:  So. Anyway, it's just great to have him here and so it's also a real pleasure to be able to sort of, you know quiz your former boss. So I've been thinking about the hardest questions I could possibly ask him about that. Someone wanted me to ask him about the records of the Kennedy Assassination but maybe we'll leave that one alone. But actually Barbara, as in her introduction there, talked about the vast responsibility you have as Archivist of the United States. You are responsible for our founding documents, the records of our presidents, and really the vast records of all the federal government. Sort of the weight of that is amazing. And so, how does someone become the Archivist of the United States?

David S. Ferriero: Well, you, um check the want ads. (Laughter) No, really. This was something out of the blue. The Archives was never on my radar screen. I was, you know, extremely happy at Duke University, I expected to retire from Duke, I loved the 8 years I was there. I loved the 5 years I was at the New York Public Library. I expected to retire from the New York Public Library. And out of the blue, on a Friday afternoon, a telephone call, my assistant came into the office and said, "The White House is on the phone." (Laughter) And I picked up the phone, and this 12-year-old working on appointments for the President said "We're looking at you for Archivist..." No, he said first of all, this is the killer, he said, first of all, "I'm calling from the White House," and I said, "Yes..." And he said, "Aren't you impressed to be getting a call from the White House?" (Laughter) His name is Kyle Watkins. He was working on appointments for the President. We had a very short conversation, and I said you've never hired a librarian to be the Archivist of the United States, and so a Presidential appointment is usually someone who has given a lot of money to a campaign. I haven't contributed a lot of money to a campaign, I'm flattered, but you're looking at the wrong guy. "Would you think about it over the weekend?" Kyle said, and I said sure.

He called back Monday morning, we had the same conversation. Ten minutes later, an adult from the transition team called to talk to me about what the administration was looking for in the new Archivist, someone who was going to help fulfill the administration's Open Government agenda. Would I come to Washington to talk?

So, I did, and I became convinced during the conversation that I had something to contribute, and it would be an opportunity to give back to the country in terms of public service. So, that was four years ago now, and I'm having the time of my life.

Tim Pyatt: One of the things that has to be different, than when you were at Duke or at the New York Public Library is the fact that you are a major tourist attraction. Many of us have visited the D.C. Mall, and many of us may have gone to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution there, and I know you've got, coming up next week I believe it is, a new exhibit coming up, the Records of Rights that will focus on the continuing value and influence of our founding documents. And so, how does sort of the whole public programming, that sort of whole being the tourist attraction sort of fit into the mission of the National Archives? And how do you see that fitting into your role in promoting the records?

David S. Ferriero: Well, actually, my career has been kind of a progression. MIT wasn't much of a tourist place. We had visitors at Duke who came not just as prospective students but just because of the beautiful campus. New York Public certainly was a destination place, so that added to coming to a beautiful place to see the Gutenberg Bible, for instance, at New York Public. So I've had a kind of a progression of experiences there, but this certainly is over the top. Forty-four facilities across the country. So it's not just the main building where the Charters of Freedom are, but across the country from Anchorage, Alaska, to Atlanta, Georgia. We play both the research and museum role. Public programs and exhibits to celebrate the records of the country, as well as helping researchers use them. In Washington, we have the opportunity because of private funding. We have a Foundation for the National Archives which helps us on the museum side of our operation. So we've been able to create something called the Public Vaults, which is an opportunity to expose users, readers, visitors to a kind of a sampling of the records of the government so they get a flavor of what kind of records and how far back they go. As well as the Rotunda, which was designed to hold the Charters of Freedom. The Magna Carta. (laughs) The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The Magna Carta is there also, it's on loan. So, you know, it's kind of been a progression.

Tim Pyatt: Well, sort of going from the Archives as a destination, what about the, one of the things that has been really great about your tenure there, is how much more you've exposed the Archives online. Certainly by your use of social media, as Barbara referenced, on your blog, and sort of one way of sharing about that, but there are sort of two programs I'd like you to talk a little bit about that I think have really made an impact on bringing the public record to the public. One is the Citizen Archivist program, and the other is the Wikipedian in Residence. So if you could talk a little bit about both of those programs.

David S. Ferriero: Sure. So, as you know, those of you who are here on this campus know, research libraries, academic libraries have been in the digitization business for some time. From the mid-90s. And I think it's safe to say, and I use the model at the New York Public Library, when the digital library at the New York Public Library was created, it was created as the fifth research library. Not as integrated within the entire span of the New York Public Libraries. And that's the way we built digital libraries back in the 90s. Like they were physical buildings where you expected people to come to you, to find these wonderful treasures. And what I learned in my time at the New York Public Library, when we hired a young hotshot guy who helped us create the digital experience at the New York Public, is you've got to find out where the people are, get your content in front of them. That's how you get the eyes on your content. Don't expect people to come to you, find out where they are. So, like photographs, if you're looking for photographs, people aren't going, their first stop is not going to be University of Pennsylvania or Penn State or Duke, it's going to be Flickr, so what can we do to get your content. So that was a lesson I learned at the New York Public, which I brought to the National Archives. So we've been experimenting with. (Laughter) I thought I did that. (laughter) So, and I have to read you these stats because I'm just blown away. So, we have recently created an Office of Innovation and they have been helping us work through some of these placing the content where we think the people are. And, the head of my, my Chief Innovation Officer, sent me this morning, a snapshot of 2013. Here it is. In terms of impact. So I just want to cite some of those figures for you. Okay, so. So far in 2013, about 550,000 people have come in through our public catalog. Okay? We've had about 870,000 views on YouTube. We've had 22 million hits on Flickr. We've had 40 million hits on Facebook. We had 4,000 articles in Wikipedia that have National Archives material. Records from the National Archives. And we have had 1.3 billion hits on those records. So, that's what I'm trying to do, to get our content out there where people see it, use it, and can grab it and use it in any way possible. So we're exploiting all kinds of technologies.

So the rationale behind the Wikipedian in Residence, we hired Dominic McDevitt-Parks, several years ago, a graduate student in library science. Much to the chagrin of his mother, who I had to talk to because he dropped out of school because he was having so much fun. (Laughter) But, Dominic's initial contribution to the National Archives was educating my staff about the power of Wikipedia. That this is a place where the people are. So, what can we do to help the staff get more comfortable. So first of all, linking Wikipedia articles to content that's in the Archives. There's a wonderful story from the New York Public Library while I was there. We were doing some stuff with Wikipedia, as we were processing collections we were going into Wikipedia and making links so that really our good content was being recognized there. So in our Library for the Performing Arts, we had the Patty Chievsky Papers at the New York Public Library. And the archivist who was processing went in and corrected the entries as she was looking at the content, as well as making the links to the New York Public Library collection. Within half an hour, she had this flaming email from a faculty member at Northwestern or Notre Dame, one of those N schools (Laughter) who had created the entry. Just furious that she had the audacity to go in and correct the information. She flamed right back at him. (Laughter) She's sitting there with the content; she had the answers. So the intent with Dominic is to not only engage the staff but to put a stake in the ground with the Wikipedia community that the National Archives is serious about Wikipedia. So I was invited to speak at the Wikimania Conference.

Tim Pyatt: One of those things you never thought would happen to you.

David S. Ferriero: Never in my life. In Washington, DC. I spoke and by the time I got back into my office, I had an email from one of the attendees with a link to the "seersucker" entry on Wikipedia. So if you look at seersucker and look at the images, you'll see a picture of me in my seersucker suit, speaking at the Wikimania Conference. See how instantaneous that is?

Tim Pyatt: One of the things that we as librarians always talk about is how do we reach those people who never come through the doors? It sounds like with what you are doing with Wikipedia and some of those other initiatives actually is getting that sort of constituency who would never even think about, like the National Archives. Are going to that because of the content, and not necessarily about where it is physically located. So I think it is a…

David S. Ferriero: And one of the things that I think that we really obsess about is what to digitize, what to make available, and you never know how the content is going to be used. And the example I like to give is from the New York Public Library. The New York Public Library has a fantastic menu collection. A woman in New York collected menus from restaurants, she started in the early 1900s. They have this fantastic menu collection. They're beautiful; they are graphically beautiful and interesting to read. And so when I was the director, I made the decision to give priority to digitizing about 25,000 of those menus. And I got into a lot of trouble from my boss, the President of the New York Public Library, because he thought that was a trivial waste of resources. Until about 6 months later when a marine biologist from the University of Washington let me know that he was working on a study of fish populations. And he was studying menus, using the menus, to see what kinds of fish were being served in New York. (Laughter) You never know! You never know!

Tim Pyatt: That's great. Another sort of more traditional way that you've been reaching out to folks is last summer you launched the Founding Fathers online which provides access to over 123,000 searchable documents by six individuals who helped found our country. I should test you to see if you can name all six. Um…no…Washington

David S. Ferriero: I got one of them wrong. I got one of them wrong in an interview.

Tim Pyatt: Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. So could you talk a little bit about this project to see where you are going, because it's a fascinating project and it's really worth looking at if you haven't visited the site.

David S. Ferriero: So one of the nicest things about being the Archivist is sitting as the chair of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which is a granting agency within the National Archives. So for the first time in my professional career, I'm giving away money instead of begging for it. (Laughter) And one of the projects has been forever supporting the publication of the printed papers of the Founding Fathers. And this is an effort to take those printed volumes. Some of them have been digitized, some of them haven't. And there are, I think for four of the six of the founding fathers there are digital sites, separate digital sites that exist for them mostly. But this is the first time that you can search across all six of the founding fathers' papers, on any kind of subject or period. It's really an exciting opportunity to get access to those papers in a very new way. And the best part about this project is we've convinced the editors of, most of the editors, of the projects to provide early content. The stuff that hasn't been fully processed, fully annotated. So you're getting early access to some of the papers that have not yet been published.

Tim Pyatt: That's great. And of course there's a cost savings as well for doing it like that? Or are you still doing the print versions as well as the online?

David S. Ferriero: I'm not printing.

Tim Pyatt: Well this sort of leads me into, we've talked a little bit about what you've done with social media, what you've done with more formal digitization projects, but it's a nice sort of segway into your new strategic plan for the National Archives, which I think will also have a huge impact. And one of the things you make a bold statement, which you call "a big hairy audacious goal." Which is great…I'm going to start using that. So Barbara, you can expect some big, hairy audacious goals from the Special Collections Library. One of those is to digitize everything in the Archives.

David S. Ferriero: And I'm getting a lot of grief from my staff about that.

Tim Pyatt: With what, over 10 billion documents?

David S. Ferriero: 12 billion.

Tim Pyatt: 12 billion, that's right. 12 billion that you have. So how is that possible? So where, how do you see yourself sort of moving forward with that initiative?

David S. Ferriero: Strategic plans need to have stretch goals. (Laughter) And my attitude is, I want to digitize as much as possible, given what I understand about how people now look for information. Unless we get that stuff digitized, you know, we might as well be sitting on a museum because people won't have access to it. We are seriously exploring commercial partnerships. We do in the 44 facilities around the country. We do a lot of user-generated content, scanning. They bring in their own scanners and walk out with content. So we are starting to capture that content now to build this repository. And exploring all different kinds of ways of making it happen.

Tim Pyatt: Sort of taking that from the other end of the thing, with all the Edward Snowden and National Security Administration issues, there's obviously a lot of documents that have need for secrecy and classifications, but one of the first things that you had to address after being appointed Archivist was the Executive Order 13526, see I do read your blog, which directed the Archives to advance declassification and the public release of records while maintaining national security. So you've talked a little bit about this goal, which in some ways, I see as equally challenging as digitizing everything.

David S. Ferriero: So this Executive Order, which was issued at the end of December mandated the review of about 400 million pages of classified content, going back to World War I. Review for release by the end of this month, December 2013. And unfortunately, it didn't give the authority to the Archivist to make the decision. It gave me the opportunity to convene the original classifiers to review their decisions and spell out just two criteria by which the content can remain classified: weapons of mass destruction and national security. If it doesn't fall into one of those categories, it has to be released. So we have reviewed just about 99 percent of all of the material. I can tell you that the process that has been developed and the cooperation we've gotten from the agencies has been tremendous. And a very high percentage of stuff has already gone out to the public, it's been digitized. We've gotten really good press from this. The six oldest documents were released. Leon Panetta, before he left the CIA, the CIA of course was one of the heavy classifiers. Before he left the CIA, he had this huge press conference, bragging about the fact that he was releasing the six oldest documents: they are formulas for invisible ink. (Laughter) From World War I. And they have been, people have been submitting FOIA requests forever to get their hands on these documents. And there was actually a note on the file that they were not to be reviewed again until I think 2017, or 2027. Some ridiculous. So Leon Panetta, as I said, huge press conference, released them. What he didn't say, is the reason he released them, was that my staff in reviewing them had discovered that they had actually been published in 1931. (Laughter) And they found them by using Google Books. So I spent five years of my life at the New York Public Library as one of the original Google partners, so I was so pleased. (Laughter)

So, I have to tell you though, that, we didn't talk about Citizen Archivist, but one of the ways of engaging the public in this process was to hold two open meetings in Washington to get the advice of the general public, scholars. Let us know what of the kinds of records that you are looking for that you had trouble getting access to that are classified. So it gives us some idea of establishing priorities. And I hosted both of those meetings, and they were exactly the same. The room was split between the Kennedy assassination conspiracy and UFOs. (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt: And I'm sure you have all the documents of all of those.

David S. Ferriero: I'm pleased to report that about six months ago now, we released a top secret Air Force Report called Project 1974, which was an effort working working with a Canadian firm to actually build a flying saucer. So your government spent $10 million to build a flying saucer. And if you go to my blog you'll see the schematics for this flying saucer. And during the test, the first test, it rose up 4 feet off the ground and crashed. (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt: So it's not what they spotted in the skies.

David S. Ferriero: No. The National Archives is responsible for the Information Security Oversight Office, This is the arm of the government that is responsible for oversight of the classification systems in operation in the federal government. There are now about 2500 different classification guides in use in the federal government. There are absolutely no standards, so what's top secret in one agency might be unclassified in another agency. That's down from 9700 different guides about 10 years ago. We have an external advisory board, the Public Declassification Information Board, which has recently issued their report to the President, which has a set of fourteen recommendations for reducing the number of classification categories to three. And a number of other issues dealing with classification and declassification. The over classification problem is horrendous.

Tim Pyatt: Well you're doing a great job about selling the value, which is important, of the National Archives which is Archivist of the United States, which is a great thing. But one of the things that I know has affected you and certainly affected us even in planning this forum was the government shutdown. Because we were trying to schedule David's visit during the whole time the government was shut down, and there was no one there to work with to get with his schedule. So could you talk a little bit about how the shutdown impacted the Archives and sort of how you've been dealing with that?

David S. Ferriero: It was a very sad situation. Sad from my perspective as the head of an agency of about 3200 people across the country. People who are not well paid to begin with. People take these jobs in the National Archives because of their passion for history, and the passion for the mission of the Archives in terms of connecting people with their information and their history. So, folks who haven't had a pay raise in three years, living paycheck to paycheck, and not knowing, going into this, whether they were going to get paid. So it was just…in terms of morale, for the staff, it was incredibly disturbing. And I, you know, we are back in operation, trying to restore and recoup what we lost during that and the expense was $62 billion across the government. And no guarantees that things are going to be better on January 15 when the next decisions have to be made. So, that's the downside of working in the federal government.

Tim Pyatt: So we are getting a stack of questions here, so I'm going to ask you one final question before we open it up to the ones from the floor. So since this is the Provost's lecture series, I have to ask a question that has the Provost in it. You're a longtime University Librarian, so who is harder to negotiate your budget with? The Provost or Congress? (Laughter)

David S. Ferriero: Let's see. I've been very fortunate to have really good provosts. Peter Lange at Duke was on my search committee, so we established a very good working relationship from day one. He asked, he in fact asked a killer question during my interview, he was the head of the political science department, or in the political science department at that point. And he asked this killer question. I was coming from MIT, and he asked, "how could anyone coming from MIT have any understanding or appreciation for the social sciences and humanities?" So I was the humanities librarian at one point at MIT, but worse than that, Peter got his political science degree at MIT. (Laughter) So I said to him, how could any who graduated from MIT leave there with the impression that we didn't do humanities and social sciences.

Tim Pyatt: Exactly.

David S. Ferriero: The Provost is much easier to deal with than the government. (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt: We've got a number of questions here, so I think we'll work through as many of them as we can. Oh, and a few more coming. So this is actually a good segway. So what is a typical, if you have one, day at work for you? Do you work seven days a week? Can you ever take a vacation?

David S. Ferriero: We are testing that actually this Christmas. (Laughter) It is a seven day, twenty-four hour a day kind of job. Because you just, you never know. But it's also part of who I am and my need to know what's going on. There is no such thing as a typical day. There's a lot of, we're in the middle of this transformation, reorganization, strategic planning. So there's a lot of internal kinds of stuff going on, recruitment of new staff. Paying attention to, when I talked about this Chief Innovation Officer, paying attention to the signals coming from the White House about expectations from the agencies. So this focus on innovation is something that we spent a lot of time getting right. There is a lot of ceremonial stuff. What I was just working on the Secretary of Commerce wants to come on Saturday morning with some friends to look at some Lincoln stuff. We do a lot of programming, exhibition openings, visits to the Hill, sucking up to Congress. (Laughter) We are the best kept secret in Washington. We do orientation visits for new members of Congress. People drag their families, members of Congress drag their families and staff into the Archives all the time. So there's a lot of that meet and greet. Meet and greet kind of stuff. And then, you know, there are 44 facilities, so getting out and traveling around the country, meeting with. I'm on my way tomorrow morning to the Carter Library. We're hiring a new director of the Carter Library so I'm meeting with the President and Mrs. Carter to talk about this new director. So, there's no such thing as a typical day.

Tim Pyatt: I should say David is very generous with his time. When we launched a book A Few Good Women, actually I think I saw Lee Stout here who is the author of that. We actually did that at the National Archives. It was a great venue. He was there hosting it and welcoming everyone.

David S. Ferriero: I put a huge premium on public programs that celebrate books that were written with content from the National Archives. So I want those authors to come in and talk about how they used the records and that's been a lot of fun.

Tim Pyatt: So next question: The engagement with Wikipedia is wonderful; thank you. Are the Archives and other somewhat similar institutions able to provide any funding support to Wikipedia?

David S. Ferriero: Yeah, I wish. That's a very good question. We can't, as a federal agency, do that. But Wikipedia could apply for an NHPRC grant. So I will pass that on to Dominic. Yeah. Thanks for asking the question.

Tim Pyatt: This is one that people who have seen your blog will know part of the answer to this question, so what is your favorite part of the collection and how often do you actually get to play with the collections? (Laughter)

David S. Ferriero: So we do a fair number of, like I said, the Secretary of Commerce, VIP tours and vault tours, where we show them some of the stuff that the general public doesn't get to see on a regular basis. So I tag along on those because my staff knows I like to learn about what's in the records. So I am always, they are just jaw-dropping experiences. You know from history that this stuff happened, but you don't associate documentation that really proves it happened. You know we bought Alaska. Right? But you probably don't know that there's a check for 7.2 million dollars made out to the Russians. And you flip it over, and there's the endorsement. (Laughter) It's drawn on the Riggs bank in Washington. And they just took this thing into the Riggs bank and walked out with 7.2 million dollars in gold. A wonderful letter from Annie Oakley to President McKinley, offering to raise, this is just after the Maine was blown up, offering to raise a troop of 50 sharpshooter women who would supply their own rifles and ammunition to fight the Spanish-American War. A letter from a 14-year-old kid in Beverly, Massachusetts, to President Eisenhower asking for a picture, suitable for framing. (Laughter) A letter from me. That was from me! (Laughter) So far, they've found four letters from me. Two to Eisenhower, one to Kennedy, and one to LBJ congratulating him for signing the Civil Rights Act.

Tim Pyatt: I remember you told me a great story about the time that you first meeting with all the directors of the Presidential Libraries and about how all the other Presidential Libraries' directors faces fell when the guy from the Kennedy Library pulled out a letter from you to President Kennedy.

David S. Ferriero: That's right. (Laughter) It was an extraordinary moment, but more extraordinary was watching the faces of the other 12 directors because they were like, oh my god, how am I going to top this? (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt: The favorite documents you showed me when I visited you at the National Archives was Ralph Waldo Emerson's letter of recommendation for Walt Whitman for a civil service job. (Laughter) Which is a good segway into this next question…What 's the most unusual item or items that you have at the National Archives?

David S. Ferriero: We have a finger. We have a mole. A petrified mole.

Audience: Who's finger?

David S. Ferriero: It's part of a district court case. It was evidence in a district court case. The mole was submitted as, one of the most interesting collections are the pension files for the Revolutionary War and Civil War. And in order for the widow or parent to get approved for the pension for the soldier, they had to prove that the soldier actually was supporting them, was sending money back. And in one case, the only thing that this widow had to prove that her husband even served, was a letter that he had sent describing the mole that he had caught in his tent, and he had sent the mole with it. (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt: Well this is a good segway actually into this next question (Laughter). Which is not about moles…

David S. Ferriero: Oh, the rifle, the Kennedy assassination rifle. Parts of Parkland General Hospital Emergency Room. The pink suit. You know, things like that.

Tim Pyatt: This next one is a good segway from that. The question is what are the criteria for documents, tapes, etc. to be archival? And I will say, if you had not been here on time, our University Archivist, Jackie Esposito, had a powerpoint about records management, that she was prepared to show (Laughter).

David S. Ferriero: You don't know how lucky you are. (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt: Perhaps you could talk a little bit about the criteria, what makes archival worthy.

David S. Ferriero: So the work of the National Archives is governed by two sets of laws: the Federal Records Act and the Presidential Records Act. On the federal side, we're responsible for the records of about 275 executive branch agencies and departments, and each of those agencies has a records manager who works with my appraisal staff to create a records schedule. Just as the departments here on campus create a records schedule that describe the kind of records that are created in the agency, how long they need to be kept in the agency for business purposes, and what two to three percent are of legal or historic value that need to be kept forever. And it's that two to three percent that ends up at the National Archives. So, 12 billion pieces of paper, it's only two to three percent of what's created, the rest of it is destroyed. So that's on the federal side. On the presidential side, it's much cleaner. Everything that's created in the White House is record, and everything is kept. Including moles. (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt: This question is actually a good follow up because it takes into account how obviously many documents now that are created are not created as paper records or audio records, but they are created as digital records. And so how are you going to keep up with the rate that digital records are growing and how do you choose what to save for that group?

David S. Ferriero: It's the same.  Those outlines that I just gave you for federal and presidential are the same. They are format neutral. It doesn't matter what they are, whether its social media or electronic mail, or what, it's the same criteria are used to judge them. The challenge, the great challenge now is, of course, the use of electronic records. Every agency is now creating their records electronically. We started capturing email during the Reagan Administration, so between Reagan and Bush 41, we have about 2.5 million email messages. The Clinton White House, 20 million email messages. Bush 43, 210 million email messages. And I'm predicting a billion from this White House. So this is an important moment in our history in terms of record keeping, and we are very fortunate to have captured the President's attention around this issue, and he issued a historic memorandum at the end of 2009, the Memorandum on Records Management. The first time since the Truman Administration that the White House has gotten involved in records management. It outlines a set of mandates for the agencies and a set of promises that the National Archives is going to fulfill in order to help the agencies to make this transition, so we have launched that. We have started working with cabinet level agencies first to make sure that they are creating and maintaining their records in a manner that can be transferred to us at the appropriate time.

Tim Pyatt:  So the next question up is actually a very timely because about the time of your appointment there was a whole white paper or report on the Presidential Library system, and about its sustainability. So the question is, how much longer can we continue to provide?

David S. Ferriero: 2030.

Tim Pyatt:  Next question. (Laughter)

David S. Ferriero: No, I have these projections that go out and say when will we be bankrupt.

Tim Pyatt:  The question goes on, there is a second part to it.

David S. Ferriero: Don't ask me about the Obama Library.

Tim Pyatt:  It has nothing about the Obama Library. They are increasingly inconvenient for scholarly research. Can the records be centralized even if the museums remain in place?

David S. Ferriero: They really need to be digitized. I don't care where the originals are, but they really need to be digitized so people don't have to travel to use them. That's  part of my goal to digitize everything, includes the presidential library materials. So in September 2009, the Archives presented to Congress, at Congress' request, a white paper on models for the future of presidential libraries. It was controversial among the directors of the presidential libraries, because they weren't involved in creating the document. This was before I got there. So when I inherited this, I had them work on, you know, the document themselves. And it's taken awhile, but we now have a new document that we are reviewing. Of all the things I worry about, in my entire span of responsibility, it's the presidential libraries where I spend most of my time. They now are about 25 percent of the budget is presidential libraries. The model is a private foundation builds the library and museum and when the library is opened. They build it to our specifications, but it's a private construction project and gets turned over to the federal government at the dedication of the facility. And starting with the Clinton Library, a modest endowment comes with it, and it's increased several times, so that when the Obama Library is built, sixty percent of the operating expense has to come from the foundation. That's one model that's in place. But I can tell you, based on experience that the foundation, the ability of the foundation to raise money is directly proportionate to when the president died. So, the Herbert Hoover Foundation is not raising a lot of money.

Tim Pyatt:  How do you handle requests to examine rare materials such as original copies of the Declaration of Independence or other sort of highly important, highly valuable documents?

David S. Ferriero: The Declaration of Independence is on display. 24 hours. No, we don't let anyone. If you are talking about actually getting up close and personal with it, you don't. But, we've digitized really all of the high-end stuff so there are opportunities to use those. But if you've got a legitimate reason for why you need to see the originals, that's not a charter, we can make arrangements for that.

Tim Pyatt:  But by and large, most people come in, they go to the reading room, they see original documents.

David S. Ferriero: Oh yeah, on the research side, if you are doing research, you're dealing with original documents, yeah definitely.

Tim Pyatt:  And one of the questions in here too was asking about, what are the access restrictions for the Archives. So maybe you could talk about who are the Archives open to?

David S. Ferriero: Anyone.

Tim Pyatt:  This is a great question. So even though it came in last, I'm going to ask it next because even though you obviously are a great Archivist of the United State. They want to know what your term limit is, and what's next for you.

David S. Ferriero: So, during the whole interview process, you know, I finally got to apologize to Kyle Watkins for not taking him seriously. (Laughter) No one ever talked about you know what's the term here. And it was the public printer, the head of the Government Printing Office, who came to welcome me to Washington, and handed me a copy, specially bound copy with my name engraved on the front of the law governing the National Archives saying in that spells out the term, which is "life." So in order to be removed, the President has to show cause, I have to have killed someone or something, and then it has to be approved by both houses. And the reason he brought it to me was because he was so jealous, because that's not his. It is a presidential appointment, but it can't be tied to an administration because of the nature of the work. We deal with both sides of the aisle.

Tim Pyatt:  This is great, I'm trying to figure out which ones to do next. Was Mount Rushmore ever used to hold any documents or government items as it was designed?

David S. Ferriero: I love that story. And that was something I never knew until I became the Archivist that there was a cunning plan to build a vault in Thomas Jefferson's head on Mount Rushmore. And in fact, the door is there, because I have pictures of it. The rock was so hard that they abandoned the project, but I'm told that that was the goal was to house the Charters in Thomas Jefferson's head. Not a luxury suite for Cary Grant. A worse story is the National Archives was built, the Rotunda was built to hold those documents. In fact the tabernacles were built within the Rotunda to house them. This is in 1935, the building opened. The Charters, the documents had been in the State Department in the custody of the State Department and then moved to the Library of Congress. In 1935 when the building opened, the Librarian of Congress at that point refused to release the documents. And it wasn't until 1952 when he died, that the Charters actually came to the National Archives.
That's a great Washington story. (Laughter)

Tim Pyatt:  This question has to do with your public outreach. So each of us has our own personal collections and in effective our own personal archives. And so how does the National Archives reach out to help others to learn how to preserve their own collections?

David S. Ferriero: We do a lot of public programs about how to use the resources of the National Archives but  also things you should be thinking about with your own collections. Our preservation folks do a fair twice a year where people can bring in photographs and film and paper and get some advice on what they should be doing. I'm very proud of our preservation folks. They are really very talented, and we've got a terrific exhibit up now, the Iraqi Jewish Archives, about 20,000 items found in horrible conditions in the basement of Saddam Hussein's headquarters which have been preserved and restored by my preservation staff, with funding from the State Department.

Tim Pyatt:  On a slightly different take, so in your comments today, you mentioned about the Google Books library project, this person wants to know, what's the status of the Google Books Library project, and I'll add a follow-up, is the National Archives going to figure out a way to participate?

David S. Ferriero: I think, you know, I'm really concerned because I think the library project is dead. I don't think that Google is interested in books anymore. I think they've moved on. And I'm hoping to get them interested in paper. They've never been interested in archival collections, they've always been so book oriented. But they are on my radar screen.

Tim Pyatt:  And this one goes back to your time at New York Public. Museums in New York sometimes charge admissions of 25 dollars or more. As the former director of the New York Public Library, did you think the day will come when libraries charge admission?

David S. Ferriero: Oooh, I hope not. I don't think so.

Tim Pyatt:  Oh, so this is great. So this is directed to you personally.

David S. Ferriero: Uh oh. Given the fact that you have all this knowledge of classified data, and everything that you see, what kind of security does the Archivist of the United States need? Need or have? (Laughter) I saw those guys with their hands on their ears at the airport. That's funny, I was just telling a staff member yesterday, I saw this episode of NCIS where the director had been kidnapped and there was a conversation with the kidnapper and the director about negotiation and she made the statement that the federal government does not negotiate on the behalf of federal agency heads. And I'm sitting there saying, like me? You wouldn't negotiate for my release? (Laughter) There is no special security.

Tim Pyatt:  So again, with the digitization, how is your plan to keep up with the demand to digitize, and do you have the resources to keep pace with the current demand?

David S. Ferriero: Of course not. That's why it's a stretch goal, and we're going to have to be creative about how we pull this off. But we do a lot with private funding, we have a wonderful foundation that helps us raise money. And I'm convinced that we are going to be successful.

Tim Pyatt: Well, we are down to one last question and before I ask that final question is there any sort of thoughts on things you'd like to share with us?

David S. Ferriero: Oh yeah, I never answered the Citizen Archivist thing.

Tim Pyatt: Oh yes, please.

David S. Ferriero: So, as I said, one of the selling points for me was the open government initiative and reading, we also print the public papers of the President. So in reading the first volume of this administration's public papers, I came across the remarks the President made to his senior staff on his first day in office. Where he made the statement that the American government does not have all the answers. And we need to figure out ways to engage the American public in helping us solve our problems. So I took that to heart and I started thinking about ok, so what are we doing already where I can say, here is an example of how we've engaged the American public. So we had for many years now, something called the Civil War Conservation Corps, a group of volunteers who have been prepping Civil War Pension files for digitization. And they've done one hundred thousand records so far. So there's an example. So, in talking with my Innovation folks, what can we do to engage the American public. Here's a good example, I don't know if you've thought about this, but cursive is not being taught in many schools anymore. And I'm sitting on billions of pieces of paper in cursive, and we've got all these kids who can't read our records. So we've started this. We have a Citizen Archivist Dashboard. If you go to archives.gov and click on the Citizen Archivist Dashboard, you'll find a number of opportunities to get engaged with us. And one of them is transcription. And we've loaded thousands of our records in, and people are actually transcribing for us. So there's that. There's photographs that can be tagged. There's a wonderful program with the State Department where volunteers from the State Department are coming and tagging their own photographs. Which is really great. And one of the projects that I'm really proudest of is a project that we are doing with NOAA about weather. So NOAA is interested in doing long-term studies of changes in weather. And we have in our records, all of the ship's logs of every Coast Guard or Navy vessel. So we are partnering with them to digitize, at their expense, to digitize these logs. And we doing right now we are in the Pacific Northwest in the 1840s, 1850s. They are interested in the weather on the left hand side of the log, we are interested in what was going on, why was the ship there, what's the history here. So it's a win-win situation for us. The Old Weather dot com, which is a British outfit has this fleet of transcribers who are transcribing all this information, so we are getting transcriptions, NOAA is getting the weather data so they can track weather patterns. So we are looking for those kinds of opportunities to engage.

Tim Pyatt: That's a great idea, the Citizen Archives has become a model that many of us in the profession have looked at to try to figure out how we could do that locally in our own places. So I'll get you the last question here, so you've had your brushes with fame, you had Jake Gyllenhaal in "The Day After Tomorrow" camp out in your office while the end of the world was happening. You've had Nicholas Cage come through in "National Treasure" and steal the founding documents. So this is one I think that's really appropriate, now knowing this whole connection…Is the Ark of the Covenant really in the basement? (Laughter)

David S. Ferriero: So every year we give this award called Records of Achievement to someone who's made significant use of the records in their work. So Ken Burns has gotten it, Cokie Roberts, lots of really interesting people. And this year, just a couple of weeks ago, we gave it to Steven Spielberg for "Lincoln" because his staff did the research on the 13th amendment with my staff. And in preparation for his visit, the staff got together to talk about, what are we going to show him? And someone did suggest, how about the Ark of the Covenant? (Laughter) Which is in an undisclosed location. Oh. (Laughter) He was absolutely extraordinary. He was…Talk about someone who really cares about the history, when he saw the originals of this stuff, like the voting record for the 13th amendment, he was actually in tears. It was really very moving. It was great.

Tim Pyatt: Well, before we thank you David, I'd like to invite Dean Dewey up.

Dean Dewey: This is not the Ark of the Covenant. (Laughter) We'd like to just give you a small token of our appreciation by giving you our beloved Nittany Lion Shrine, a small replica of it.

David S. Ferriero: That's wonderful.

Dean Dewey: We want to thank you so much for a fantastic presentation. Thank you, David. (Clapping) Thank you everyone.