Mark Greene concluded his remarkable Society of American Archivists (SAA) presidential address in 2008 by writing “Defining and committing to values and changing attitudes will increase and broaden our power as a profession and as professionals. . . . We can become stronger, more powerful, more respected, and more visible. We can become more valuable, but only if we know our values.”1 Greene's address sparked the creation of the “Society of American Archivists Core Values of Archivists,” which articulates eleven values that “embody what a profession stands for and should form the basis for the behavior of its members.”2 The creation and adoption of this statement by SAA Council in 2011 has given archivists both seasoned and new a resource that we can use as a basis for explaining the profession to one another and to those outside the field, and for differentiating what makes the archival profession distinct from others. Perhaps most important, the statement has given archivists a resource that advances our discourse; as we wrestle with defining which values represent the profession, and what we mean by those values, we develop a richer understanding of our field and our role in society and culture, broadly defined.
It can be tempting to think that our values endure, but, of course, the “Core Values of Archivists” represent a snapshot of the profession when the statement was adopted in 2011. Eleven years after Greene's address and eight years since the adoption of the “Core Values of Archivists,” we see the ongoing professional conversation about our values developed much further by the wonderful set of essays contained in Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark A. Greene.3 Edited by Christine Weideman and Mary A. Caldera, the book serves as a festschrift, but not in a traditional sense. Rather than providing a set of essays that reflect explicitly on various aspects of Greene's work, the editors assembled a murderers' row of authors to engage with and interrogate each value. Each of the eleven values has at least two essays dedicated to it for a total of twenty-three essays overall, with an introduction by the editors and an afterword by Dennis Meissner, Greene's friend and collaborator on his most famous work. Although Greene's writings made immense contributions to the field, his theory was always grounded in practice, making it exceedingly appropriate that all contributors bring substantial experience as archival practitioners, who range in experience from a few years to several decades in the field. While the book functions as a coherent whole, most readers will be drawn to some of the parts more than the sum, as inevitably, the collection has higher and lower spots. The best essays will likely become staples on the syllabi of archival education courses for the next generation, a relief because they deserve greater intellectual engagement than I will be able to devote to them here.
Fans of Mark Greene looking for an extensive review and celebration of his many contributions to archives and archivists will be disappointed. Though some authors draw heavily on Greene's work, most do not, and some do not reference it even in a cursory way. This dynamic seems to have a liberating effect on the writers, however, and instead we get a substantial helping of fresh thinking about the field largely unencumbered by the risk of a vanity project presented by the whole festschrift endeavor. Greene's influence on the work remains implicit and subtle, as an inspiration but not a guiding voice. An intellectual review of Mark Greene's writing deserves its own article, but here I will highlight a few characteristics that made it continually compelling and challenging: 1) its pragmatism; 2) its capacity to draw on literature from beyond the archival field, and 3) its ability to provoke and inspire new thinking. These aspects of Greene's work can be seen as influences on the book overall, and they especially animate the finest essays in the collection.
Ben Goldman and Hillel Arnold contribute two of the essays that truly stand out. Goldman's essay in particular, “It's Not Easy Being Green(e): Digital Preservation in the Age of Climate Change,” represents the crown jewel in the collection and should be required reading for all contemporary archivists. Like Greene's best writings, the piece reframes an important topic for archivists. Goldman at once asks us to zoom out and consider the importance of our endeavor within the context of the existential threat of climate change. As we move into a world that will increasingly grapple with resource scarcity, what share of those resources should we demand for our work, compared against other human needs? And, if we answer this question with humility, how will we adapt our theory and practice accordingly? Thankfully, Goldman zooms back in to offer alternative and more sustainable practices for digital preservation. This essay productively unsettles us while also focusing on practical approaches to improving our work.
In his essay “Practicing Care: Constructing Social Responsibility through Feminist Care Ethics,” Arnold offers a bold application of feminist care ethics to the archival endeavor to reimagine the value of “Social Responsibility,” introducing us to the work of the feminist scholars Carol Gilligan, Nel Noddings, and Joan Tronto, and building on the work related to “radical empathy” in archives by archival theorists Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor. Arnold's perspective is at once pragmatic and idealistic, a dynamic tension that propels his argument that archivists' aspirations toward social responsibility need to be rooted in Tronto's four “ethical elements of care”: attentiveness, responsibility, competence, and responsiveness. Arnold offers critical insight to those who seek to create a more diverse, inclusive, and excellent profession and a major challenge to those who see the profession through a narrower lens that places priority on the archivist following institutional missions rather than a more transcendent set of ethics and values. Colleagues looking for an article from this volume for a reading group would do well to start here.
Arnold's essay is only one of many that seek to reformulate our understanding and/or the explicit articulation of one of the core values. Michelle Light, Trevor Owens, Dominique Luster, and Scott Cline provide other stellar examples of this impulse. Light critiques the inclusion of “Responsible Custody” as a core value and argues instead for a new value of “Responsible Stewardship” to take its place in her essay, “From Responsible Custody to Responsible Stewardship.” In an age when many archivists are employing postcustodial and postcolonial theory and practices to meet a set of challenges and opportunities presented by new technologies and the rise of community archives, Light's perspective rings true. In “Archives as a Service: From Archivist as Producer and Provider to Archivist as Facilitator and Enabler,” Owens suggests edits to the “Service” value to foreground participatory archives and community engagement to replace customer service as a model that will help us transcend neoliberal conceptions of our work.
In their discussions of the “Professionalism” value, Dominque Luster's and Scott Cline's essays complement each other while drawing somewhat different conclusions. Luster's essay, “Professionalism: As Pursuit of Archival Identity,” brims with energy and passion as she argues for an inspired concept of professionalism that incorporates lived experience of the archival practitioner, writing “True professionalism demands a balance of personal and theoretical knowledge because archives are social (and often political) constructs of power that tend to privilege some narratives and marginalize others despite all of our education and standards” (p. 254). One imagines Cline would readily agree in his essay on the same topic, “‘Things of the Spirit’: Professionalism as an Archival Virtue,” though he concludes that “Professionalism” should be removed from the list of values because it “transcends and encompasses the other ten values” (p. 258). He argues professionalism be understood as a virtue, writing, “If we are to act with professionalism, we need to be cognizant of our responsibilities to society, our roles as public citizens, and our sacred obligations to the other, and the ideal of building genuine relationships with all who cross our professional paths” (p. 265).
The essays in this book leave us with the impression that “Social Responsibility,” “Diversity,” “Service,” and “Professionalism” comprise the values that challenge and motivate us most today. Some essays I have already discussed fall into these categories, but others deserve at least brief mention. Both Steven Booth and Joel Wurl give strong arguments about the importance of diversity and inclusion and a nuanced understanding of our challenges in this area. In “Practice What You Preach: Diversity in Action,” Booth provides a cogent critique of how the profession has approached our diversity initiatives and holds up several examples of positive work being done, such as Documenting the Now; the Filipino American Community Archives in Washington, DC; a People's Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland; the HistoryMakers fellowships; and several others for us to consider and follow as we continue our efforts to diversify the profession. Wurl uses his essay, “More Voices, Less Clamor: Reflections on Valuing Diversity,” to survey a set of trusted colleagues on the topic of diversity and weaves their thinking into a coherent whole, implicitly demonstrating the power of diverse perspectives to expand what any one individual or group can bring to our work. Wurl's essay is at times sobering but ultimately optimistic, as he concludes that we need to move beyond concepts of diversity and inclusion to empowerment, writing that “Transformation can only happen when consequential decision-making authority changes possession; when the ‘documented’ truly become the ‘documenters’” (p. 64).
These snapshots give only a taste of a rich buffet of insight delivered by this book. I could write a whole separate review that engages more deeply with the ideas presented in several other essays in which remarkable archival thinkers, such as Jennifer Meehan, Robert Horton, Elisabeth Kaplan, Rand Jimerson, Frank Boles, Elena Danielson, Rachel Onuf, and Paul Lasewicz, build on their work in exciting and productive ways.
Reading this volume start to finish gives a sense of professional renewal, and the coeditors and authors have made a seminal contribution to the archival profession. The book brims with pragmatic solutions to act on our theories, introduces us to the work of writers from any number of related disciplines, and provokes us to consider and reconsider how we think about and act upon the values of archives and archivists. We miss the voice of Mark Greene, but its echoes can be heard throughout these pages. The book also leaves us with an inescapable conclusion: it is time for SAA to reconsider and revise its “Core Values of Archivists.” Like Greene's original address and article, this volume can serve as an inspiration and starting point for that work. I cannot think of a better way to pay ultimate tribute to Mark Greene.
1 Mark A. Greene, “The Power of Archives: Archivists' Values and Value in the Postmodern Age,” American Archivist 72, no. 1 (2009): 17–41, https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.72.1.k0322x0p38v44l53.
2 The full values statement is available at https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics and is also reprinted in its entirety as an appendix in the book being reviewed.
3 I should declare my biases. The coeditors of Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark A. Greene are long-time friends and former colleagues. The same can be said of many of the contributors, and I knew and loved Mark Greene, who most readers will know suffered an untimely death in 2017. My thinking in accepting this assignment was that my proximity to the people and the inspiration behind this book would give insight worth sharing, but, of course, readers of this review will have to make up their own mind. Mark Greene would have expected nothing less than full critical engagement from the reviewer of this book, friend or foe.