Robert D.W. Connor, the President of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and recently retired first Archivist of the United States, in his address to the Society at their annual meeting in 1942 read a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt who had been awarded an honorary membership in the organization.  He called for “…the duplication of records by modern processes…”

FDR Letter

Letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to Robert Diggs Wembly Connor, 13 February 1942, Folder 668, Box 8 in the R. D. W. Connor Papers #2427, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


FDR acknowledged the magnitude of effort required:  “This involves, of course, a vast amount of work because of the volume of federal, state and local archives of all kinds—but I think that a broad plan would meet with hearty public support if it could be properly publicized.”

Which brings to mind the language in our draft Strategic Plan, one of the objectives under our goal of Making Access Happen.  In an effort to make an ever-increasing number of records available to the public we have promised to streamline processes, innovate, and collaborate with others to significantly increase the number of NARA records that are available to the public.  In fact, we have been so bold as to suggest that we “Digitize all analog archival records and make them available online to the public.”  This a stretch goal, an aspirational goal.

In the language of James Collins and Jerry Porras, this is a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).  “A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as a unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit.  It has a clear finish line, so the organization can know when it has achieved the goal; people like to shoot for finish lines.”

I’m the first to parrot FDR and acknowledge the vast amount of work required.  And, at the same time, I point out the advances in technology which now enable this work, the new opportunities for partnerships and collaborations, the emerging roles of our citizen archivists, the vision of the Digital Public Library of America, etc.  Most importantly, I understand that for our user base, there is an expectation and increasing demand to have our content available online.

The National Archives was created with the intent of making the records of the country available so that citizens can hold their government accountable for their actions, so that we can learn from the past, and to discover our own stories in the records.  Just think about how that mission will be enhanced with even more digital access.  Let’s make it happen!

One thought on “FDR’s BHAG

  1. A quiet shoutout (is that an oxymoron?) to those behind the scenes who make possible eventual public access to documents (digital or analog) at NARA. Behind each record that becomes available online are members of a NARA team. Their actions are so important whether they contributed to civic literacy in the past or are contributing now. The NARA team includes the records appraisal archivists who work with federal departments and agencies to help identify permanently valuable records for which the law requires retention and preservation. Without the important yet complicated process of records management for paper and electronic records, there could not be accountability of any kind. Records would be destroyed at will in the agencies for any number of reasons and never survive to be taken in by NARA, much less be shared online. And on the projects side of NARA, a nod of appreciation to those who handle disclosure review of the records the agency takes in. Not just of classified information, but unclassified and declassified records, as well. I so admire those who ensure that NARA releases what it can, protects what it must. Having done both appraisal of federal records and disclosure review while employed by NARA, the low key, dedicated public servants who work quietly behind the scenes to #makeithappen will always have a special place in my heart.

Comments are closed.