Publication Date

September 1, 1992

Perspectives Section


Library of Congress Institutes New Regulations and Hours

As a result of increased security concerns, the Library of Congress has closed the stacks to all researchers and to many of its staff. The NCC has argued that instead of an absolute ban on stack passes, a new screening procedure be established to limit access to those scholars who could demonstrate their need for access and could submit verifiable proof of their research project. For some types of research, stack passes are not just a convenience but an essential research strategy for identifying sources that cannot be located through finding aids.

On the issue of new hours, on May 16 the Library began closing the Manuscript Reading Room on Saturdays. This new policy is a hardship for both out-of-town scholars and Washington residents, for whom Saturdays are often their only opportunity to use the manuscript collection. Historians have proposed that the Library of Congress follow the procedures of the National Archives, in which records used on Saturday must be ordered during the preceding work week. Such a compromise would enable staff to maintain a level of surveillance comparable to that of weekdays.

Some scholars are also expressing concern about a third new development at the Library of Congress—that of allowing researchers in the manuscript reading room to receive for examination only four boxes of documents at one time, instead of the previous eight boxes. For those using certain types of documents, the new procedures slow down considerably the whole process of doing research.

The development of procedures to prevent theft along with budgetary constraints require the making of hard decisions. But many scholars have written to the Librarian requesting that the Library weigh its choices in favor of maintaining access to its holdings. As the custodian of such a large and unique collection, the Library of Congress needs to place a high priority on its mission of facilitating research. If you wish to comment on the above changes, write to: Dr. James Billington, The Librarian of Congress, the Library of Congress, Washington, DC 20540.

Eight Nominees to the National Council on the Humanities Confirmed

The terms of nine members of the twenty-seven member council of the National Endowment for the Humanities expired in January. In late March the Administration sent to the Senate names for eight of the nine expired positions. In early summer there were some indications that the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, which considers these nominees, would wait for the last name so that they could undertake the confirmation process for the entire group at one time. Additionally some scholars voiced concern that this slate of nominees offered the Humanities Council no ideological diversity, since all the nominees had an ideologically conservative perspective. However, in a surprise move on July 1, the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee voted to approve the eight nominees. Indications are that the decision to bring the nominees to a vote involved an agreement between Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), the chair of the committee, and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), the ranking minority member of the committee, to allow a vote on pending nominations, which included Department of Education nominees as well as NEH, in exchange for concessions that would allow the committee to complete work on the “Freedom of Choice” bill. On July 2, the day after the committee vote, the full Senate voted to confirm the eight nominees.

The eight new members, whose terms will last until January 1998, are: Paul A. Cantor, professor of English at the University of Virginia; Bruce Cole, professor of fine arts at Indiana University; Joseph H. Hagan, president of Assumption College; Theodore S. Hamerow, professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin, Madison (suggested by the AHA); Alicia Juarrero, professor of philosophy at Prince George’s Community College; Alan C. Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania; Condoleezza Rice, associate professor of political science at the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University; and John R. Searle, professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley.

General Accounting Office Releases Report on Department of Energy Record Keeping Practices

In May the General Accounting Office released a report titled Department of Energy Management: Better Planning Needed to Correct Records Management Problems. The report noted that in 1988 the National Archives made over thirty specific recommendations regarding all phases of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) records management. Despite some efforts at correcting these problems, GAO found that DOE still needs to implement adequate documentation practices, perform comprehensive inventories of all its records, establish procedures to prevent records from being removed or destroyed when employees leave or contracts end, and develop plans or set specific target dates to ensure the correction of its records management problems. Single copies of this report (GAO/RCED-92-88) are free. Call GAO: (202) 275-6241.

Authorization Legislation for the National Archives (NARA) Introduced

On June 9 Representative Bob Wise (D-WV) introduced H.R. 5356, the NARA Authorization Act of 1992. Two weeks later Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), John Glenn (D-OH), and David Pryor (D-AR) introduced a parallel bill, S. 2892. Although the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a part of NARA, operates under authorization legislation, NARA has had no such legislation. Representative Wise explained that because NARA “has been operating with very little outside input or oversight,” there is a need for an act to ensure congressional oversight. This legislation, Senator Kohl said, “is about our obligation to assure that records exist which future generations can use to explore their past.” He stressed the need to keep “the National Archives strong and open so that our past can continue to shape and guide our future.”

In addition to establishing relatively low appropriations ceilings for both NARA and NHPRC, the bill would create two advisory committees — one focusing on general issues and the other on electronic records — to advise the Archivist. The proposed legislation has thirteen sections, which in addition to dealing with appropriation levels and advisory committees, address such diverse issues as establishing a Visiting Scholars Program to provide expenses for researchers to travel to Washington, assuring that photocopying prices do not exceed costs, increasing authority for the U.S. Archivist to issue binding guidelines to federal agencies, establishing a more comprehensive definition of the term “record” to insure inclusion of computerized and electronic information, providing for copies of documents to be treated as federal records, increasing the endowment requirement for presidential libraries from 20 percent to 40 percent, instituting a seven year term for the U.S. Archivist, and requiring that the Deputy Archivist be a Presidential appointment confirmed by the Senate. It is most unlikely that there will be any movement on this bill during this session of Congress.

Study on Privileged Access Released

In June the Center for Public Integrity released the study, For Their Eyes Only: How Presidential Appointees Treat Public Documents as Personal Property. Prepared by investigative journalist Steve Weinberg, the report details specific case studies of former Reagan cabinet members and their use of classified documents in their memoirs. “Why, twenty years after Watergate, do we still allow government officials to shade or filter the truth to their own liking?” said Charles Lewis, Executive Director of the Center. Noting that there are roughly a billion pages of government documents still classified, Lewis asserted that “the entire classification system is hopelessly outmoded.” Of special interest to scholars is an appendix that provides information for each administration since Truman on how former high-ranking officials have used classified documents for their memoirs. Copies of For Their Eyes Only may be secured by sending $10 to the Center for Public Integrity, 1910 K Street, N.W., Suite 802, Washington, D.C. 20006.

Page Putnam Miller
Page Putnam Miller

University of South Carolina