Thinking About the Future

I had an opportunity to provide the keynote address at a recent meeting of the Association of Library and Information School Education (ALISE). The Association has been active since 1915 in providing a forum for archive and library educators to share ideas, to discuss issues, and to seek solutions to common problems.

As I have been traveling to meet National Archives staff I have made an effort to meet with students and faculty at the graduate programs around the country to educate them about who we are and where we are headed. My goal is to excite them about opportunities to work in the Federal Government, especially my agency. So the ALISE program was a great opportunity to meet with a group of students, faculty, and deans—all in one room—and to encourage them to think about their teaching and research programs and how they meet the needs of the next generation of information professionals.

What I have been telling students is that we are looking for:

  • People with a broader background than was the case when I was a graduate student. In addition to history, archives and library science, other subject matter areas are important. Above all, we want people who can connect archival work with real life experiences.
  • Technical savvy is a given to work in a modern archives. And by savvy, I mean not just experience with the latest technologies, but also a sense of excitement and curiosity about putting those technologies to work
  • A tolerance for ambiguity—if you need a blueprint of what your job is going to be like in five years, archives might not be the best fit.
  • Highly developed collaborative skills. Can you play well with others?
  • People with a strong passion for working with people. A customer-driven organization such as the one we are creating needs a customer-driven staff.

Our future training, development, and performance and recognition systems will reflect this direction by focusing on the abilities such as: thinking creatively, achieving results, building relationships, promoting customer satisfaction, communicating with impact, influencing others, leading teams, and conducting research and analysis. We are also serious about developing a staff who can apply business principles, methods, and processes to solving problems; e.g., cost-benefit analysis, return on investment, etc. Finally, we intend to emphasize continual learning. We will be creating and seeking opportunities to expand the staff’s knowledge and skills through formal and informal training and feedback.

What do you think? Are these the skills and competencies we need in the next generation of information professionals?


Read the full-text of my keynote address at the ALISE 2012 Annual Conference.

8 thoughts on “Thinking About the Future

  1. Mr. Ferriero, I agree with the skills and areas you have identified for the next generation of NARA staff, but what about students who currently work for the agency under the STEP Program? Many of us already bring these important backgrounds to our work, but, as the STEP Program is temporary, we will be separated from NARA when we graduate. For me, that separation is looming ever-larger: this May when I graduate with my doctorate. How might folks like me continue to contribute to the agency going forward? Thanks!

  2. I’d add strong communication skills to the list — especially the ability to articulate how one task fits into the overall goals and vision of the organization.

  3. My opinions are:
    1. Continuous improvement
    2. Coordination between the parts
    3.Do others know of his work
    4.Ask subordinates, “I can do for you?”
    Thank for nice post, Sir!

  4. I have to second your comment, Colleen. It seems as if the STEP Program is being used as a way to make ends meet though the temporary hiring of students, but these same students are given no way to even keep a foot in the door once we graduate. NARA spends so much time, money, and man-hours training us, then seems to make no effort to retain us (often once we are just becoming competent and useful!). Many of us are highly (if not overly) educated, collaborative, creative, and tech-savvy; however, we are having a difficult time finding a way to contribute these skills because there is no continuity in the process of recruiting and retaining students/newly graduated professionals. I have to wonder if the STEP program, as it is currently used, “treats people as the agency’s most vital resource,” especially those people that could (given the opportunity) comprise the future of the agency and the federal workforce.

  5. Mr. Ferriero, I think all of the characteristics that NARA is looking for in folks for the future should be in the folks they hire right now. The future is now! It is important to continue to move the agency forward in its transformation process. Those characteristics are not only needed at NARA, but across the federal government.

  6. I applaud the Archivist for his efforts to change Nara’s culture through agency restructuring and recruiting talented new staff. The problems at Nara run deeper than is let on by the AOTUS and will take at least five years to take effect. Nara is suffering from what is described as “ponerization” (
    The dysfunction is so strong that good people are driven away, leaving behind those who benefit from inertia or those who are powerless to create a healthy structure. The transformation has stalled and is being strangled by beaurecratic foot dragging. The rank and file don’t feel any positive change yet. Middle management is banking on upper management losing initiative, declaring victory and moving on to other jobs.
    I understand it’s not an easy job, but is it worth it?

  7. The proposed Pathways Programs, which will replace current student hiring programs, are intended to improve recruiting and provide for training, mentoring, and career development opportunities. Pathways will consist of an Internship Program (which replaces current STEP and SCEP appointments), a Recent Graduates Program, and the Presidential Management Fellows Program. We are still awaiting the Office of Personnel Management final roll out of the rules and procedures to be followed under Pathways. Candidates for any NARA positions can prepare for career opportunities, by focusing on specific positions, and the competencies and skills desired and required for those positions.

  8. I’d add strong communication skills to the list especially the ability to articulate how one task fits into the overall goals and vision of the organization.

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