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December 15, 2009

President's archivist has his finger on history

BEVERLY — This month, Beverly native David Ferriero took a look at the check the United States wrote in 1867 to purchase Alaska for $7.1 million.

Why?

"Because I could," Ferriero said.

After President Obama nominated him over the summer, the Senate last month confirmed Ferriero as the 10th archivist of the United States. The job requires keeping track of all federal means of communication, from the original Declaration of Independence, to millions of photographs, maps, motion pictures and audio recordings, to presidential e-mails and Facebook and Twitter updates.

"We have 10 billion things," he said. And growing. As more and more information goes online, one of the government's top challenges is figuring out the best way to not only convert paper documents into electronic records, but to preserve the constant and evolving stream of digital discourse that occurs in every branch of government.

When it comes to archiving, there's no line between what to keep and what to throw away.

"We come down on the side of archiving everything," Ferriero said. "It's simpler and cheaper to keep everything than having these kinds of arbitrary distinctions." Plus, he said, you never know if it will be valuable in the future.

As a Class of 1963 graduate of Beverly High School, Ferriero grew up in North Beverly and still has family in the area. He said he makes it a point to keep up on news in his hometown.

Last year, as the director of the New York Public Library, he read in The Salem News about a 10-year-old's door-to-door campaign to raise thousands of dollars to save Salem school librarians' jobs. He sent him a personal letter commending his efforts, saying he would roll out the red carpet for him to "visit my library here in New York City."

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