Recent archival literature reflects a number of diverse definitions of the role of the archivist. Many older assessments stress a more cohesive definition: the need for archivists to be all to all archives, equally representing users and administrators, creators and researchers. The challenge created by contemporary records is not to change this fundamental role, first expressed over two hundred years ago during the French Revolution, but to create new ways to fulfill it. The task requires making three crucial distinctions: between the archivist's methods and the archival mission, between the archivist's work and archival functions, and between professional issues and archival science issues. Only by learning how to strike a balance between the needs of archivists as individuals and the collective identity of the archival profession can the challenges of contemporary records be met. An earlier version of this article was delivered on August 26, 1999, as the author's presidential address at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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