Distinguished Service Award: Knox County Archives and Doris Rivers Martinson

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The Knox County Archives in Tennessee and its former manager, the late Doris Rivers Martinson, are the 2021 recipients of the Distinguished Service Award given by the Society of American Archivists (SAA). The award recognizes an archives institution, education program, nonprofit organization, or government organization that has given outstanding service to its public and has made an exemplary contribution to the archives profession.  

The Knox County Archives has taken many steps to preserve and make accessible its records to residents since the government’s early beginnings in the eighteenth century. After shifting from various residents' homes and courthouse basements, professional management of the archives began in 1933, leading to a formal establishment of an Old Records Department in 1941. Then, in 1963, Knox County’s Public Records Commission was formed “to eliminate useless records not required to be kept under the present statutes," requiring significant remodeling of the facility and updated technology.In 1972, administration of the archives was transferred to Knox County Public Library and, in 1984, the archives was physically moved into Knoxville’s 1874 US Custom House, which had been designated by the library as a “history center” for both the archives and the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection. The archives’ most recent transition was in 2004, when the East Tennessee History Center was expanded to house all of the county’s permanent, historical records and to create more extensive public access via the Knox County Archives Reading Room.

These last two transitions were overseen by Doris Rivers Martinson, county archivist and archives manager for thirty-three years until her retirement in February 2020. During her influential tenure, Martinson codrafted a National Historical Publications and Record Commission grant proposal to establish the formal County Records Management program in 1989—for the first time making life-cycle management of official records in all media types a standard component of county administrative operations. Martinson’s significant contributions have preserved the history of the county’s government and created ways for the public to meaningfully engage with it. Her legacy will be remembered during the Knox County Public Library’s celebration of the archives’ Golden Anniversary, which continues into 2022. Martinson passed away on January 27, 2021. The Knox County Archives Reading Room is named in her honor.

One supporter wrote, “Honoring the Knox County Archives with this award recognizes the dedication of public servants like Martinson as well as rewards the resourcefulness, ingenuity, and vision of institutions that continually find new ways to serve the public through their archival missions.”