Program Report: David Ferriero – Archivist of the United States

DavidArchiveSpeakerwebWow, what a title, Archivist of the United States. It almost sounds subversive, like anarchist, but it is really quite the opposite.  What David S. Ferriero, the 10th Archivist of the Uniited States must do is create order in the potential chaos of 200 plus years of government records in the information age.

Ferriero came to the job in 2009 with plenty of experience including serving as the Director of the New York Public Libraries and running two of the nation’s major academic libraries at MIT and Duke. His tenure at Duke explains the warm introduction given by President Lois who worked there with him and numerous guests with library connections at Duke and in the community.

He shared some fun facts. I didn’t know that Elvis Presley collected badges from police organizations and how he managed to score a DEA badge by connecting with Richard Nixon.  I found the whole story online including the picture Mr. Ferriero shared. There is irony in the story since drugs were a problem for Elvis. It’s also ironic that the story is on the Smithsonian website because Mr. Ferriero made very clear that the organization he runs is not the Smithsonian or the Library of Congress.  However, the story did mention that this event became known when the National Archives began selling copies of the picture taken by the White House photographer years later. Later they even put it on tee shirts. The matted print is still available today for $14.95.ElvisNixon

The fascinating part of the presentation was what the National Archives is responsible for besides preserving Elvis anecdotes.

The National Archives manages 46 different facilities including the 13 Presidential Libraries.  A complete list is on their website at It preserves and makes available to scholars and the public all the important (and not so important but interesting) documents that the government has.  This includes treaties, patents, military records, the founding documents and many, many more.

From the patent offices, he shared patents for eyeglasses for chickens and anti-gravity shoes for another pop icon…Michael Jackson.  Don’t believe it? Google it. Jackson actually used them in performances so he could lean over from the ankles apparently defying gravity.

We can’t repeat all the interesting things he shared that you can find in the Archives, in fact he didn’t have time to share what he brought with him.  You could easily kill a morning exploring the website and barely scratch the surface (who would do that?). Among other things, it has resources for teachers and over nine and a half million images that you can get through various vendors.

Since a pseudo controversy about some emails that might have eluded the government net is simmering, you might have expected some questions about retention of that kind of record. The fact is that the preserved emails from recent administrations has been increasing exponentially, as you might expect. He shared that they are anticipating a billion will be stored from the Obama administration and that there is a small army of “classifiers” that determines which ones can be made public…what a job.

One other interesting stop on the National Archives website is Mr. Ferriero’s blog. Among other things it includes where he has had speaking engagements.  There weren’t many and none that seemed to duplicate what we got.  I think we should be considered much honored that he came and grateful for the relationships with old colleagues at Duke such as President Lois, that got him there.

Submitted by Jay Zenner


  1. “Since a pseudo controversy about some emails that might have eluded the government net is simmering”

    really surprised to see a political opinion expressed in a Rotary program. as one who works in the records and information management profession the issue about a government official establishing a personal email server to communicate while using a non-government email account is very troubling especially when the President announced that his administration would be the most tranparent ever. Sadly it isn’t every day it seems there is another newspaper story announcing that another government official is using either pseudonymous government email account to thwart FOIA requests or is using a non-government email account to conduct official business.

    pseudo-controversy? not hardly

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