The Federal Coach: U.S. archivist, first librarian in job, faces big online task

David S. Ferriero, the new archivist of the United States, shown in a room containing War of 1812 records.
David S. Ferriero, the new archivist of the United States, shown in a room containing War of 1812 records. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The nonprofit Partnership for Public Service and The Washington Post's On Leadership site jointly produce the Federal Coach, hosted by Tom Fox, director of the partnership's Center for Government Leadership.

The goal is to "engage, inspire and learn from you, the federal worker, whether you are a new hire, a contractor or a manager at the highest level."

There are three weekly installments:

Mondays: "Getting Ahead" -- advice on "leading up."

Wednesdays: "View From the Top Floor" -- interviews with federal leaders.

Fridays: Answering questions about navigating the federal workforce terrain.

Archives' online task is complex and huge

The "View From the Top Floor" interview was conducted by Tom Fox.

David S. Ferriero is the 10th archivist of the United States. In this role, he leads the National Archives and Records Administration, the nation's record keeper. Ferriero previously served as the Andrew W. Mellon director of the New York Public Libraries, where he led the development of the library's digital strategy.

As the first librarian to serve as archivist of the United States, what unique experience do you bring to the job?

I think my many years in libraries has provided me with a certain set of technical competencies around organization of information, but more importantly, thinking about an experience with users and how users interact with information. I've been in libraries through the introduction of technology up until current time -- with the Internet digitization and creating digital content -- and thinking about how we exploit technology for the same purposes and the user environment.

How do you engage your employees?

I listen to them. I have 44 facilities from Anchorage, Alaska, to Atlanta, Georgia. I've been getting out to those facilities and creating opportunities for the staff to talk to me so I get firsthand information about what is going to work. I now blog [at AOTUS: Collector in Chief], which is another vehicle for people to communicate with me. I put a premium on paying attention to what people have to say. As someone who started his career shelving books in a library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I always had my mind on those people coming up behind me to ensure that the quality of the work environment was not only adequate but a place where people want to work.

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