Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Georgia State Archives Closes to the Public

As reported by WSAV Channel 2 in Savannah, Georgia:


ATLANTA, GA --

Official statement from the state:

"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.

Since FY08, the Office of the Secretary of State has been required to absorb many budget reductions, often above the minimum, while being responsible for more work. I believe that transparency and open access to records are necessary for the public to educate themselves on the issues of our government. I will fight during this legislative session to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research, and review the historical records of Georgia."

Story at Georgia Closes State Archives

A very sad day for Georgia genealogists and genealogists all over the world.


UPDATE

This is from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

By Kristina Torres

"A firestorm has erupted over the state’s decision to sharply curtail public access to the Georgia Archives.

The announcement late Thursday quickly became a cause celebre for academics and family genealogists alike as thousands signed online petitions and Facebook pages through the weekend.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp said even he was unhappy — and it was his decision.

“To reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation,” Kemp said. “I will fight during this legislative session [starting in January] to have this cut restored so the people will have a place to meet, research and review the historical records of Georgia.”

Effective Nov. 1, only limited public appointments will be available to see the state’s important and historical records dating to at least 1733. In addition, the archives’ staff of 10 full-time employees will likely be reduced.

State law mandates the archives be accessible at least every Saturday. But officials aren’t sure there will be access on other days of the week.

Kemp expects the move to save the bulk of more than $730,000, enough to satisfy a proposed cut in his office budget going into next year. Gov. Nathan Deal has asked most state agencies to trim their budgets by 3 percent as he eyes Georgia’s sluggish economy, but those cuts must be approved by state lawmakers, who won’t take up the issue until at least January.

While it’s another sign of still-tough times for state government, many people who use the archives are feeling a personal pain.

“I think it’s devastating,” said Kaye Lanning Minchew of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, which formed late last year after a series of nips and tucks left archive supporters wondering what would come next. “The state archive holds the records of the people. So how can you not be open to the public?”

Ironically, the state expects to issue a proclamation Wednesday to celebrate Archives Month in Georgia.

“For a mature society, these [archives] are sort of the hallmarks of civilization,” said Emory University’s Leslie Harris, a history and African American Studies professor who is working on a book about slavery in Savannah. “Of course there are materials in the archive we hope to use. These places are the attic for all of us, where memories are stored.”

The issue goes beyond the historians, researchers and amateur history buffs who have traveled to the Clayton County campus where the archive is housed.

The official record of Georgia also resides within its walls. Therefore, archivists say, so resides a transparency about how state government worked over the last few centuries, and how it works now.

According to Minchew, who is also executive director of the Troup County Archives and Legacy Museum on Main in LaGrange:

  • State officials have used a 1787 agreement kept at the archive to settle a Savannah River boundary dispute with South Carolina.
  • Cobb County has used archived Georgia Department of Transportation maps to establish property rights of way for utilities.
  • Georgia Pacific has used archived environmental records to determine the type of air filter for burner smoke stacks in Warm Springs.

“The cornerstone of democracy is the ability of citizens to know what their government is doing,” Georgia Historical Society President Todd Groce said Friday. “You can’t completely restrict and shut down access.”

The decision puts Georgia in a uniquely unflattering position by making it the only state in the nation without a place for people to have full-time, centrally located access to hundreds of thousands of government and state documents, photographs and historical records.

Georgia’s archives already offered the fewest hours in the nation. Once open more than 40 hours a week, the institution, located in Morrow, has been getting by with 17 since last year.

Mississippi offers public hours six days a week. South Carolina Archives does five days. Alabama’s archives are open four days a week plus every second Saturday.

“This is not the way we want Georgia to be known,” said Marie Force, archivist for Delta Air Lines and president of the Society of Georgia Archivists.

It’s unlikely the protests will have much of an effect before the change takes place. But the issue has galvanized archive supporters into action, with one petition by Saturday afternoon signed by more than 7,100 people from across the nation."

Story at Supporters rally against Georgia Archives closure


Copyright © 2012 Michele Simmons Lewis

2 comments:

  1. There is much work to do to save the archives. There is a stalemate between the Governor and the Secretary of State. I’m asking everyone to please show your support (you can be from anywhere in the world) and like this facebook page https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiansAgainstClosingStateArchives
    You can also help by signing the petition https://www.change.org/petitions/the-governor-of-ga-leave-our-state-archives-open-to-the-public
    Supporters are hoping individuals and genealogy societies will write letters to the Governor and the Secretary of State of Georgia in addition to signing the petition. You can find the addresses for all of this on the facebook page.

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