For archivist of the United States, Beverly was the beginning | News
BEVERLY — When David Ferriero was a boy growing up on Walnut Avenue, he would walk to Conti’s Flower Shop on Dodge Street, where the Beverly Public Library had set up a ‘branch’ consisting of six shelves of books.
“The kids’ books were on the bottom shelf,” he said. “I still remember sitting on the floor selecting my books surrounded by tubs of fresh-cut flowers.”
Ferriero’s formative trips to the library in his hometown take on added meaning this week. On Friday, the Beverly native will officially retire after 12 years as archivist of the United States. He announced his retirement in January.
As archivist, Ferriero was in charge of the National Archives and Records Administration, the federal agency that maintains and preserves the country’s most valuable records, including the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, becoming the 10th archivist of the United States and the first librarian to hold the job.
In an interview with The Salem News this week, Ferriero, 76, credited his education in Beverly with setting him up for success.
“I’m a product of the Beverly Public Schools and I’m a big fan of them,” he said. “I think I really got an incredibly good education. I had great teachers at the Brown School, Memorial Junior High and Beverly High School.”
After graduating from Beverly High in 1963, Ferriero went to Northeastern University, where he majored in education and “hated every moment of it.” He dropped out, joined the Navy, and served as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
He returned to Northeastern after the war and got a job in the humanities library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of Northeastern’s co-op program. “I can point to that as the beginning of my career in librarianship which led me here,” he said, speaking by phone from his office at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
Ferriero went on to work in libraries at MIT, Duke University and as director of the New York Public Libraries. In 2009, he said, “This kid from the White House personnel office called saying, ‘We’re looking for you for archivist of the United States.’”
“It’s not something that had ever been on my radar screen,” Ferriero said. “It took them a while to convince me that this was something I should do. It was all based on the fact that the Obama administration was serious about open government and thought the National Archives should play an important role in that. That’s what convinced me.”
Ferriero has been credited with increasing public access by digitizing the National Archives’ collection and expanding access to museums, exhibits and public programs in person and online. He said the agency’s biggest accomplishment during his tenure was the shift from paper record-keeping to electronic record-keeping.
Ferriero recently has found himself in the middle of the controversy over whether to hand over boxes of Trump White House documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. President Joe Biden has authorized the release of the records, which the National Archives are scheduled to deliver to the committee on Friday.
Asked about the controversy, Ferriero said he’s pleased that it has focused renewed attention on the importance of transparency when it comes to government records.
“We’re here to ensure our democracy, and record-keeping is a way that people can hold their government accountable for their actions,” he said.
“And that’s exactly what is happening here with this investigation.”
Ferriero said he and his wife, Gail, who grew up in Swampscott and Lynnfield, will live at their home in Durham, North Carolina, in retirement. But he said they eventually plan to move back to the North Shore, where he still has family, including his sister in Beverly.
As far as his plans for retirement, Ferriero said he has made no commitments.
“I started shelving books in 1965 and I haven’t stopped,” he said. “It’s time for a rest.”
Staff Writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2535, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @heardinbeverly.