The National Archives Agrees to Accession
Personal Papers of Department of Energy Scientists
Thanks to the perseverance of contract laboratory records managers and archivists,* the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has successfully revised its Records Retention and Disposition Schedule for research and development records to allow the "private" records of DOE laboratory scientists and engineers to be preserved in the U.S. National Archives.
Like the people who create them, the records of highly skilled, multi-talented, variously occupied practitioners defy easy categorization, and yet such records provide a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of day-to-day science. However, until now regulations separated "federal" records—those created by DOE staff as government employees—from their overlapping "personal" records created in their parallel careers as university faculty, members of national commissions, and other similar activities. The former records, if deemed of historical value, would eventually go to the National Archives, while the latter were not eligible for the National Archives and were often scattered or lost. Over a period of many years, the DOE Records Managers and Archivists have struggled to appropriately appraise and schedule the valuable and sometimes voluminous records created by these individual researchers.
The DOE achieved a major breakthrough in August 1998 when its new Records Retention and Disposition Schedule for R&D records (N1-434-96-9) was officially approved by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This culminated a multi-year effort by a working group that included archivists and records managers from most if not all of the DOE national laboratories, as well as representatives from NARA. The working group followed much of the thinking outlined in the reports of the AIP Study of DOE National Laboratories and also of the 1998 AIP Study of Multi-Institutional Collaborations, both led by Joan Warnow-Blewett, and the new schedule was a major improvement over the earlier version. The final schedule divided R&D records into four main types: case files; individual records series; program planning and management records; and medical research records.
However, some members of the working group thought that what was missing from the schedule was an item on individual scientists' records collections. Many scientists at national laboratories hold multiple positions during their careers, both within and outside of DOE—as post-doctoral researchers, principal investigators, research group leaders, program and division heads and, in some cases, laboratory directors. The unifying principle of the records of such individuals is their careers, not a single records series or project case file. To (re-)organize their records based on the latter schemas would do damage to the original order and context of the records. When members of the working group proposed a schedule item for individual scientists' collections, the NARA representative indicated that such collections were all secondary reference materials and that inclusion of such an item would guarantee rejection of the schedule by NARA. In the interest of expediting approval, the item was not included in the final version of the schedule.
Implementation of the approved DOE R&D schedule resulted in improved management of LBNL's scientific and technical records and the transfer of a significant volume of R&D records to the Federal Records Center. However, after a few years, it became apparent that several gaps left by the exclusion of the item covering individual scientists' records as well as other records series needed to be closed. Therefore, in 2001 John Stoner, Archivist and Records Manager at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), submitted a request for three revisions to the records schedule. The changes covered individual scientists' records, internal publications, and committee and conventions files. The second and third revisions were approved, but the proposed individual scientists’ collection schedule item was not approved.
In 2006 Lee Michael, the Records Manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), contacted Stoner about resurrecting the proposed revision, and Stoner agreed to send a revised recommendation for individual scientists' files to a recently established DOE Working Group on R&D Records if there were enough archivists and records managers in the DOE complex who would support such a move. Michael and Jean Deken, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory Archivist, volunteered to work with Stoner to revise and update his original proposal based on the input received from working group members.
The different missions and institutional affiliations of the three labs ensured that a wide range of viewpoints would be captured in the final product. The trio researched issues about scientists who are also university faculty, about having the scientists (rather than the records managers) declare when records are no longer needed for current research, and changing the proposed new item title to "researchers" (rather than "scientists") collections, so as to include the records of prominent engineers and technicians.
As a result of the Working Group's efforts, an "Individual Researchers Collections" item was included in a proposed revised DOE R&D Schedule (N1-434-08-2) submitted to NARA for review on October 3, 2007 and NARA’s Rich Noble, was tasked with its review. Noble, other NARA staff, and Stoner made a site visit to SLAC in February 2008, where Deken was able to provide unaccessioned examples of individual researchers collections for review, including the records of W. K. H. "Pief" Panofsky, Burton Richter (SLAC's first and second directors) and David Fryberger, physicist and long-time head of SLAC’s Experimental Program Advisory Committee.
Satisfied as to the appropriateness of the proposed schedule item for such records, there remained a lingering concern at NARA that the item might be overused, but Deken and others estimated an annual accumulation of no more than 10 cubic feet. The schedule makes clear that "It is anticipated that very limited use will be made" of the individual researchers collection schedule item and, thus far, that has indeed been the case. The revised R&D Schedule, this time with the Individual Researchers Collection item included, was approved on May 30, 2008, just a few months shy of 10 years after approval of the original schedule. Though the volume of such records remains small, their importance is quite high, and through this scheduling innovation, DOE and the national labs are succeeding in preserving the integrity of the records of individual researchers whose efforts span multiple roles, projects and experiments.
* John Stoner, Archivist and Records Manager at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), led the multi-year effort described here, assisted by Jean Deken, Archivist, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lee Michael, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
For additional information contact John Stoner at email@example.com or Jean Deken at firstname.lastname@example.org.