No Soup (Or Records) For You!

Remember the Seinfeld episode about soup? You are waiting in line to order soup and you get to the counter and the owner says “No soup for you!” Well, that is what the Georgia legislature is saying about its state’s records, “No records for you!”

By now you have heard the announcement that the Georgia State Archives will be closing as of November 1, 2012, due to state budget cuts. Here’s a clip from the official press release (emphasis mine):

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget has instructed the Office of the Secretary of State to further reduce its budget for AFY13 and FY14 by 3% ($732,626).  As it has been for the past two years, these cuts do not eliminate excess in the agency, but require the agency to further reduce services to the citizens of Georgia.  As an agency that returns over three times what is appropriated back to the general fund, budget cuts present very challenging decisions.  We have tried to protect the services that the agency provides in support of putting people to work, starting small businesses, and providing public safety. …

To meet the required cuts, it is with great remorse that I have to announce, effective November 1, 2012, the Georgia State Archives located in Morrow, GA will be closed to the public.  The decision to reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation.  To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state.  The staff that currently works to catalog, restore, and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced.  The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed.  After November 1st, the public will only be allowed to access the building by appointment; however, the number of appointments could be limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees.

SAA’s Archives Month PR kit.

Within hours a petition on Change.org was started (and is still accepting signatories), a Face Book page was set up, and many individuals and organizations lent their voices to protest these cuts. Will it be enough? That remains to be seen.

A lot of thoughts run through my head at moments like these. First is concern for our colleagues who work at the Georgia State Archives. What will become of their jobs and that beautiful conservation lab? I wonder what will happen to the records and how long they may have to sit in their expertly designed (and nationally recognized) building unattended and unused?  Is it even legal to separate the electorate from their records?

When I see headlines like “History By Appointment Only” I have to do a gut check. Times are indeed tough all over and difficult decisions must be made, I get that. But it does start me thinking about how we defend what we do, and how we convince people (especially those holding the purse strings) that what we do is vital not only to the history of our organizations and our families, but to that of the very fabric of this nation.

I keep going back to this idea that we need multiple ways to express the importance of preserving the cultural record, from a 30 second elevator speech to a 20 minute “this stuff matters” presentation. It is easy for us “in the business” to understand why preserving records matter, but how do we gauge that understanding in the broader public, especially in those people who are living on the edges (either at the bottom or the top) of society?

The timing of this is ironic considering that October is American Archives Month. While we lament and gnash our teeth over this decision, let us also remember that we should never sit on our heels and think it couldn’t happen to us. As a nation we pay for what we value. Let’s hope that the great state of Georgia will hear the arguments for keeping the Archives open and reverse this decision.

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2 Responses

  1. Update: The Georgia State Archives laid off all but three staff members today, the director, a veteran archivist, and the building manager. This includes everyone in preservation and conservation. If you haven’t done so, please sign the petition linked above.

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