The Case for Open Archives
What This Article is NOT
This article is not about opening up A.A. Intergroup, Area, or General Services Archives for easy access, public inspection, and general information. That’s not going to happen. And the following extract is typical of the restrictive policies adopted and in force around the U.S. There are rules and policies. There are requirements that a visit be “legitimate.” There are requirements that applications be submitted. There are requirements that access be “controlled.” There are requirements that a committee—often a “trustees” committee vote on each application on an ad hoc basis. And the procedure is not unusual for archives, nor is it confined to A.A. archives and collections. Thus, when I wanted to obtain materials from General Services in New York, I often obtained letters of request from one or the other of Dr. Bob’s kids. I then specified to my friend Frank Mauser (now deceased) just what I wanted to see. Frank was the GSO archivist who succeeded Bill’s secretary Nell Wing. Frank then submitted my request to the trustees archives committee, and then when I came to New York for research, the materials were usually ready for my examination. But I couldn’t tape them, have copies made of them, or do much but look at them at make notes. I encountered the same procedure when I went to the Episcopal Church Archives in Texas, except that the archivist was the arbiter. I encountered the same procedure when I went to the Princeton University Alumni archives in New Jersey, except that a curator was the arbiter. I encountered the same procedure at Brown University, except that I was obliged to produce and did produce at letter of invitation from the President of Brown University. I encountered the same procedure at NYU when I tried to run down the records of the man who edited Bill’s Big Book manuscript before the first edition was published in 1939, except that I was denied admission unless I paid a fee of $75.00 for entering; and that’s as far s I got. I was always treated courteously, but I sure got a taste of what I would have encountered if I hadn’t relied primarily on first hand interviews, private collections, personal libraries, friendly libraries and librarians, and knowledgeable correspondents who informed me by phone, by mail, by email, and by personal discussions.
But What About The Still-Suffering Alcoholic or Addict
Let’s take a look at a classic set of rules, regulations, policies, prohibitions, and barriers promulgated by a local A.A.archives in California. Here it is as I found it on the internet:
Policy Concerning Access to Materials in the A.A. Archives
The materials in the A.A. Archives are available to A.A. members and non-A.A.s who have a legitimate interest, such as historians, social scientists, etc. However, as befits an anonymous organization, access is controlled. The Intergroup Committee of Alcoholics Anonymous in Santa Clara County has established the policies and rules. Each application for access to the archival holdings must be approved. This Committee has complete responsibility for the archival material and has the sole jurisdiction over its use.
The overall goal of the Archives is to remain as open as possible so that A.A. members may have ready access to the historical legacy of their organization and program. In addition, serious researchers should be allowed access to the holdings. Controls are necessary, however, to ensure the anonymity of all persons mentioned in archival material, in line with their own wishes and with the A.A. Tradition, in order to protect the materials themselves from loss, from physical damage and from deterioration due to handling, aging or environmental conditions. All A.A. members are welcome as visitors to the Archives Center. There they can see selected materials and speak with the archivist about our holdings, about archival activities in their areas and about how they might use the central resources both the material in the Archives and technical archival assistance.
However, if A.A. members or non- A.A. scholars wish to make use of specific material in the Archives, a written request for access should be made to the trustees' Archives Committee specifying what materials are desired, and the use to which they will be put. Each request will be considered and ruled on an ad hoc basis. Trustees, directors and staff members have access to archival material (with the exception of restricted files) without having to make such requests. However, they may not remove material from the physical Archives area.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 January 2005 )
Essential Readings About A.A. History
Have you met a wet drunk, a brain damaged A.A. member, or an inquiring newcomer recently who could fight his or her way through the foregoing maze to get a look at where his fellowship came from and who did what – dead or alive?
I was a lawyer. I know how to research. I know how to gain legitimate access to resources. I know my way around libraries. I’m a pretty good persuader. I’d like to think my motives are not self-serving. I’m good at getting letters of introduction. And a number of people gave me great assistance in my earlier research years—Nell Wing, Bill’s secretary; Frank Mauser, A.A.’s archivist; Nickie Shoemaker Haggart, Dr. Sam Shoemaker’s daughter; Sue Smith Windows, Dr. Bob’s daughter; Robert Smith, Dr. Bob’s son; the secretary to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale; the Executive Director of Moral Re-Armament; the corporate treasurer of Moral Re-Armament; Frank Buchman’s biographer. And a good many others.
But what about the penniless researcher who can’t even afford a phone call or a bus ticket to meet these people, let alone get their endorsements and letters of introduction?
And What about the Phoney Barriers?
“You can’t do that. It’s a violation of the Twelve Traditions!” Says who! “This isn’t ‘Conference Approved.” So what! “I don’t like people who make a profit off of drunks” Never met one, though I know that Bill Wilson sure did. “That might confuse the newcomer.” As if the babble of ill-informed bleeding deacons will enlighten him. “Where does it say that in the Big Book?” Which Big Book – God’s Big Book, or Bill Wilson’s? “This promotes religion?” Which one! “This is an attempt to shove Christianity into A.A.” What about the original Christian Fellowship? And good luck! “This will bring A.A. into public controversy.” As if A.A.litigation in Mexico and Germany are not proof enough that public controversy is in the eye of the beholder. “This God business will scare away the newcomer?” And a bottle of booze will scare him back if he lives long enough! “This violates the principle of anonymity.” Which principle?
“We want to protect the dead AAs and their families.” Hmm! “Let’s keep it simple.” Simple what! “We are going to moderate and censor what goes on this website so that it will be ‘safe.’” Safe from what! Porn? Terrorism? Communism? Republicans? Aliens? Christians? Researchers? Scholars? Historians? Or just someone with whom the moderator disagrees? There’s a poor soul – now dead who enticed A.A. “history lovers” to her website on the assurance that it was “safe” for them. And by the way, is a wet drunk “safe.” Or is he or she someone to be helped? You sometimes wonder if the barrier builders have ever seen a newcomer or sponsored someone or cleaned up the puke of a wet drunk. But maybe that’s not “safe.” On and on and on.
Now You Know Why the Non-Profit Collections Are So Important
Today, with minor variations in approach, you can see A.A. history without charge, without prohibitions, with easy access, and with a promise it will all soon be on the internet for anyone to see and study. Here are some examples:
The Griffith Library, East Dorset, Vermont, managed by Wilson House – free
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Library (in Dr. Bob’s own Church in Akron) – free
Calvary Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh (Sam Shoemaker’s church) – free
Ray G.’s Traveling A.A. History Archives (Ray is archvist at Dr. Bob’s Home) – free
Akron Intergroup Archives – free but under lock and key
Dr. Bob’s Home Annex, Ardmore Street, Akron – free but under lock and key
Seiberling Gate Lodge on grounds of Stan Hywet Museum and Gardens – free, limited times.
Stepping Stones, Bedford Hills, New York – free when I researched there, limited times
Hartford Seminary, Connecticut – free with permission from librarian as arbiter
More? I sure hope so. Even more important, there are A.A. history sites proliferating as we speak. Just click, and you are there. Books, Articles, Documents, Tapes, Photos, pictures, manuscripts, pamphlets, commentaries, directories, links, forums, FAQs, and more.
What this Article IS
Open your eyes! Truth is often hard to get at. And a lie is often half way round the world before truth has a chance to get its shirt on. Neither Traditions, nor anonymity, nor committees, nor policies, nor professional workers, nor ego-centric leaders are or should be barriers to the truth about A.A. With our founders dead and fifty years of suppression and distortion, it’s time to open your eyes. Learn what A.A. is. And make sure you support the places, the collections, the contributions, and the people who want to let you in on the rich history of our fellowship and its founders.
Copyright © Dick B.