Peabody’s Improbable History: “Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 2008….”
Last week President Barack Obama made minor news when he incorrectly signed the guest book at Westminster Abbey in London “24 May 2008.” Obama did not make the same mistake when, as a U.S. senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate, he signed the guest book at the Virginia Executive Mansion on 17 February 2007. Obama was the keynote speaker at the state Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Richmond. Governor Tim Kaine endorsed Obama for president that night, becoming the first governor outside of Illinois to endorse a 2008 candidate for president. The guest book page signed by Obama is a good example of what archivists call a record with secondary value. The Society of American Archivists defines secondary value as “the usefulness or significance of records based on purposes other than that for which they were originally created.” The significance of the guest book is derived from future events: Obama winning the 2008 presidential election and Kaine’s importance as an early supporter. Another example of secondary value is a 21 July 1987 letter written by Mark R. Warner to Governor Gerald L. Baliles. The content of the letter is quite ordinary – a young businessman wants to get involved in Virginia politics and requests a meeting with the governor. The letter’s secondary value originates from Warner’s election as governor in 2001 and United States senator in 2008. When archivists appraise records to determine their permanent value, their primary concern is secondary value.
-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist