Thursday, August 23, 2012

FDR, Archivist

This article talks about the relationship between FDR and the National Archives:

His interest piqued, FDR's attention to the Archives did not end with the signing of this law. Even before he could appoint an Archivist, he began direct oversight of the new agency's activities. Early estimates for stack space in the Archives building proved to be woefully inadequate to meet the storage needs of the Archives, especially given FDR's view that the agency should permanently hold materials of lasting historical value as well as gather and manage the operational records of the government.

When it was suggested that the new building's interior courtyard be filled with additional stacks that would double the Archives' storage capacity, the President quickly concurred in a September 10, 1934, memorandum to Secretary Ickes: "I approve proceeding with the allotment for stacks in the court of the Archives Building. Before final allotment, however, will you please be sure we are violating no law? Someone told me that by some Act of Appropriation the Archives Building is limited to historic archives and cannot be used for ordinary government records and files."

The first Archivist of the United States, Dr. R.D.W. Connor, whom the President appointed in October 1934, quickly found that FDR's interest in the Archives went well beyond bricks and mortar issues. FDR closely monitored appointments to the Archives staff and made his own recommendations for staffing. Sometimes these recommendations related to specific individuals and sometimes to more general aspects of the Archives' overall mission. Perhaps foreshadowing the work that would be done by the WPA to collect oral histories, songs, and folklore reflecting America's diversity, in July 1935 the President made the following recommendation to the Archivist: "When you get a little further along with building up a staff, I hope you will consider the possibility of appointing a Negro to work on such archives as relate to the Negro race in the United States. I think it would be a valuable gesture if it is warranted by the need." Connor responded positively to the idea, stating he would "be glad to adopt this suggestion as soon as the organization of the staff justifies it."
The President also involved himself in matters of acquisition policy—determining the types of materials to be collected and kept for permanent historical value. As the role of the National Archives evolved, FDR never hesitated to express his own thoughts as to what should be included in the Archives. When the issue of records retention reared its head, the Archivist proposed the preparation of an acquisition and disposal policy that would clear up confusion within the various government departments and agencies between records that were important for their historical or operational value and records that were of no use. The President quickly endorsed Dr. Connor's idea of an acquisitions policy: "I am delighted that you are going into the matter of the disposal of so-called useless Government papers. I hope you will keep me in touch, as you know my real interest in the subject."
Of particular concern to the President was the preservation of motion picture film. In October 1935, he wrote to Connor: "I am thoroughly and unequivocally in favor of preservation of these definitely historic records." But his preservation desire was tinged with caution: "Nevertheless, I want to be wholly on the safe side in regard to fire and until we know more about the subject, I hesitate to have films under the same roof with the manuscript, typewritten and printed records." He then proposed as an alternative the construction of underground vaults below Constitution Avenue and suggested that "the Navy and also the Army could give you much information in regard to the protective storage of explosives and inflammables."
And revealing the inclusive nature of Roosevelt's concept of historic records, after listening to a new audio recording technique of one of his fireside chats and of an address before Congress, he advised the Archivist that he believed audio recordings to be a "new and increasingly valuable addition to the preservation by you of the Nation's archives."

No comments: