National Archives: A kid in a candy store

When I was a kid, I always imagined heaven as being locked in a library. All those books just for me! I guess that archive, museum and library directors must feel the same way.

According to an article by Barbara Barrett on Kansascity.com, the National Archives’ new director David Ferriero, 64, feels like a kid in a candy store.


Until recently, David Ferriero’s favorite artifact at the National Archives was the canceled $7.2 million check – “an actual check!” – that was used to purchase the territory of Alaska back in 1868.

But then two weeks ago, Ferriero, the archives’ new director, saw an old American Indian treaty buried in a secret vault. It was etched on parchment and festooned with ribbons and, he recalled, “a string of the most beautiful cobalt blue and white beads.”

“Wampum!” he exclaimed in a recent interview. “Have you ever seen wampum?”

By now, Ferriero probably has a new favorite item. For the nation’s 10th archivist, the former director of New York’s public libraries, the discoveries come daily.

In November 2009, he was sworn in as NARA director, in charge of the US collection of some 10 billion items in its treasure trove. He’s the first librarian to lead the archives.


Beyond the so-called Charters of Freedom, written by our Founding Fathers, the National Archives holds old legislative bills, early sketches of the Apollo moon lander and formerly classified details on the attempted U.S. cover-up of a downed U-2 spy plane in the Soviet Union. There are decades of slave ship manifests, military records and immigration logs treasured by genealogists.

From shelving books to associate libraries director at MIT, and from Duke University’s vice provost for libraries, he took the helm for New York City’s public library system.

Ferriero also is the consummate librarian, delighting in history while promoting openness in government. He tries to wander every day through the National Archives’ rotunda, home to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, to marvel alongside the tourists.

Ferriero was recently asked if he had the backbone to take on the White House over public records. He responded that it just wasn’t the White House, but government in general and that he needs to make sure that each agency is doing what it is supposed to do regarding records.

It takes an experienced librarian to sort this out as the government has 2,000 systems for classifying documents. Ferriero is also in charge of the new National Declassification Center and has four years to work through 400 million pages of top secret federal documents dating to WWI.

Technology may be his greatest challenge as NARA finds a way to preserve electronic records and handle evolving technology.

Read the complete story at the link above. Read more about the National Archives.

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