In a press release  dated February 28, 2007, the National Archives and Records Administration of the United States  (NARA) and West Virginia University  (WVU) declared they had signed “a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a 10-year research and educational partnership in the study of electronic records and the promotion of civic awareness of the use of electronic records as educational resources.” It goes on to say that the two organizations “will engage in collaborative research and associated educational activities” including “research in the preservation and long-term access to complex electronic records and engineering design documentation.” WVU will receive “test collections” of electronic records from NARA to support their research and educational activities.
This sounded interesting. I stumbled across this on NARA’s website while looking for something else. No blog chatter or discussions about what this means for electronic records research (thinking of course of the big Footnote.com announcement and all the back and forth discussion that inspired). So I went hunting to see if I could find the actual Memorandum of Understanding. No sign of it. I did find WVU’s press release  which included the photo above. This next quote is in the press release as well:
The new partnership complements NARA’s establishment of the Electronic Records Archives Program operations at the U.S. Navy’s Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in Rocket Center near Keyser in Mineral County.
Googling Allegany Ballistics Laboratory got me information about how it is a superfund site  that is in late or final stages of cleanup. It also led me to an article from Senator Byrd  about how pleased he was in October of 2006 about a federal spending bill that included funds for projects at ABL – including a sentence mentioning how NARA “will use the Mineral County complex for its electronic records archive program.” No mention of this on the Electronic Records Archive  (ERA) website or on their special press release page . I don’t see any info about any NARA installations in West Virginia on their Locations webpage  .
Then I found the WVU newspaper The Daily Athenaeum  and an article titled “National Archives, WVU join forces  ” dated March 1, 2007. (If the link gives you trouble – just search on the Athenaeum site for NARA and it should come right up.) The following quote is from the article:
”This is a tremendous opportunity for WVU. The National Archives has no other agreements like this with anyone else,” said John Weete, WVU’s vice president for research and economic development.
The University will help the NARA develop the next generation of technologies for the Electronic Records Archives. WVU will also assist in the management of NARA’s tremendous amount of data, Weete said.
”This is a great opportunity for students. The Archives will look for students who are masters at handling records and who care about the documents (for future job opportunities), ” said WVU President David Hardesty.
WVU students and faculty will hopefully soon have access to the Rocket Center archives, and faculty will be overseeing the maintenance of such records, Hardesty said.
Perhaps I am reading more into this than was intended, but I am confused. I was unable to find any information on the WVU website about an MLS or Archival Studies program there. I checked in both the ALA’s LIS directory  and the SAA’s Directory of Archival Education  to confirm there are no MLS or Archives degree programs in West Virginia. So where are the “students who are masters at handling records” going to come from? I work daily in the world of software development and I can imagine Computer Scientists who are interested in electronic records and their preservation. But as I have discovered many times over during my archives coursework there are a lot of important and unique ideas to learn in order to understand everything that is needed for the archival preservation of electronic records for “the life of the republic” (as NARA’s ERA project is so fond of saying).
I am pleased for WVU to have made such a landmark agreement with NARA to study and further research into the preservation and educational use of electronic records. Unfortunately I am also suspicious of this barely mentioned bit about the Rocket Center archives and ABL and how WVU is going to help NARA manage their data.
Has anyone else heard more about this?
Thanks to Donna in the comments for suggesting that WVU’s program is in ‘Public History’ (a aterm I had not thought to look under). This is definitely more reassuring.
WVU appears to offer both a Certificate in Cultural Resource Management and a M.A. in Public History – both described here on the Cultural Resource Management and Public History Requirements page .
The page listing History Department graduate courses  included the two ‘public history’ courses listed below:
412 Introduction to Public History. 3 hr. Introduction to a wide range of career possibilities for historians in areas such as archives, historical societies, editing projects, museums, business, libraries, and historic preservation. Lectures, guest speakers, field trips, individual projects.
614 Internship in Public History. 6 hr. PR: HIST 212 and two intermediate public history courses. A professional internship at an agency involved in a relevant area of public history. Supervision will be exercised by both the Department of History and the host agency. Research report of finished professional project required.