What is it like to manage the largest collection of Presidential documents in the country? Terri Garner, director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, answered that question Friday at the Minsky Recital Hall, as she discussed the challenges of archiving over 86 million documents.
“The volume of materials associated with any president has increased exponentially for every President,” she said. “The beginning of the information age during President Clinton’s term meant we archive every email, letter, note, gift — everything. It is a breathtakingly hard task.”
The William J. Clinton library is located in Little Rock, Ark., and rests on 20,000 acres of the Arkansas River. The library serves to explore the life and work of our country’s 42nd President.
“Over a million visitors each year view the human drama of the presidency through the power of objects and documents in our collection,” Garner said.
The collection of archives was so massive, in fact, that it took eight C-130 cargo planes to transport all of the presidential documents.
Previously, Garner was the Executive Director of the Bangor Museum and Center for History. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in history here at the University of Maine.
She spoke about the challenges that libraries and historians face during the information age. She cited President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Elena Kagan to explain the difficulties when collecting all of the necessary of documents in a short time frame. Because Kagan had no previous judicial experience, the most reliable documentation of her legal viewpoints were the memo’s and briefs she wrote when she worked for President Clinton during his term in office.
“It was like a perfect storm: We had less than a month to deliver 220,000 documents in our records to the Obama administration and Congress,” she said. “Every document had to be read line by line.”
Garner saw the project as an illustration of how archivists must adapt to the technologically changing times.
“Over 99 percent of contemporary information is produced digitally. The last 15 years have witnessed progress through preservation tools, but it’s just simply not fast enough,” Garner said. “We got it done, but we had to use innovative and creative methods to do it.”
The University of Maine offers a digital archivist certificate program, which Garner believes is the future for librarians and archivists. The Digital Curtain sequence, which started this year, provides the opportunity for students to specialize in fields of selection, preservation, maintenance and archiving of digital resources.
“We have to move our profession forward, we need to adapt to the digital age by providing online archives,” she said. “We can no longer ignore this problem.”