archival enterprise

n. the practice of managing archival records and organizations


Although archivists generally associate the term archival enterprise with David B. Gracy II and his 1984 presidential address at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archivists, the term predates that use by almost fifty years—although that first use did not conceive of the term as grandly as Gracy eventually did. Since Gracy’s most famous employment of the term, archival enterprise has become significantly more popular and has extended in meaning to include both coordinated archival endeavors within a single archival institution, those within groups of such institutions, and even the archival profession as a whole. What is clear from his writing is the idea that archivists—the leaders of this enterprise—must be energetic managers of their archival mission (however they imagine its boundaries), ensuring it focuses on the active promotion of archival services to society, the development of active outward-looking archival institutions, and a concentration on the human value of records, especially in and by the present. Not every use of the term perfectly complies with this vision for it, yet every one of them carries the aura of the word enterprise, which always implies complexity, interconnectedness of parts, and the need for tenacity and vision. The term works because it suggests dynamism, thus undermining the concept of archives as places paper goes to rot. Interestingly, Gracy has said of his earliest use of the term (in 1975), “I avoided the term ‘archival repository,’ because I wanted to encourage us archivists to re-orient our thinking from staid, sedentary repository to the actions we take in doing our jobs—thus enterprise” (Gracy to Geof Huth, email, August 25, 2015).