Sunday, September 16, 2012

Help save the Georgia Archives!

On 13 September, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced that the Georgia Archives will be closed to the public as of 1 November 2012.  Georgia agencies have been instructed to reduce their budget expenditures by 3 percent, and Secretary Kemp has opted to take the required cut of $750,000 entirely and only from the State Archives.  Staff reductions will be announced soon.

The Georgia Archives was among the first state archives established (1918).  It has won many awards for its programs and state-of-the-art archival facility and has been a respected leader in archives, government records programs, and research use.  It's also done some important electronic records work.  However, in recent years, the Georgia Archives has repeatedly suffered budget cuts, staffing reductions, and reductions in public hours.  At present, the repository is open to the public only two days a week.  Secretary Kemp now wants to make it virtually impossible for Georgia's citizens to access their own history.

Georgians appalled by this proposal have started an online petition protesting against these cuts and are sharing information via a new Facebook group, Georgians Against Closing State Archives.  Please sign the petition and "like" the group, but keep in mind that online activism simply isn't enough.  Elected officials pay more attention to paper letters, faxes, telephone calls, and in-person visits than to e-mail messages or online petitions.  Given the seriousness of this situation, I urge you to write, call, or visit Georgia's Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Secretary of State and urge them to reverse this devastating decision.  If you're a resident of Georgia, you should also write, call, or visit your state Representative and your state Senator.\
When you call, write, or visit the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, or legislator, ask him or her to:
  • Restore a minimum of $1 million to the Georgia Archives budget.  Doing so will enable the repository to open its doors five days a week and avoid projected staff reductions.
  • Reverse the Secretary of State’s proposed budget cuts to the Archives to ensure uninterrupted service to the public after 1 November.
You should also focus on a few of the points below, putting them in your own words and using your own examples -- particularly if you are a Georgia citizen:
  • The Secretary of State was directed to reduce his budget expenditures by 3%.  The entire sum needed to accomplish that has been taken from the Archives budget alone and will result in the termination of all public hours.   The proposed "access by appointment…limited based on the schedule of the remaining employees" effectively denies access based on "reasonable time and place" required by Georgia law.
  • Access to government records promotes government accountability and safeguards the legal rights of citizens:
    • The proposed closure deprives citizens of regular and predictable access, as mandated in the Georgia Public Records and Open Records Act which states that all public records "shall be open for a personal inspection by any citizen of this state at a reasonable time and place, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse this privilege to any citizen."
    • It is contrary to the practice of government transparency by depriving citizens of predictable and ready access to the records that are essential to providing evidence of government accountability.
    • It deprives citizens, as well as Georgia’s own government, of access to records needed to support due process of law.   The Georgia Archives holdings have been used in a range of court cases, including land claims, boundary disputes, utility right-of-way, and claims against state agencies.
    • Access to records is essential to avoid costly litigation that will result if records cannot be located or accessed.
  • The proposed closure will also hamper efforts to research the history of the state and its citizens:
    • As the Civil War Sesquicentennial begins, researchers need access to the historical record in the Georgia Archives to provide accurate, factual evidence of that experience.  Many of Georgia’s governmental records were destroyed during Sherman’s March.  Closing the Archives similarly deprives Georgians of access to their heritage—but this time the fault does not lie with an invading army, but with Georgia officials themselves.
    • The Georgia Archives holds records actively sought by genealogists and family historians; in particular, they provide essential evidence for African-American history and genealogical research not available in many private historical collections.
    • The Georgia Archives has been an essential resource for environmental research and activities, including efforts to reintroduce the American chestnut tree in the state and issues relating to pollution.
    • The Georgia Archives has been the site of research for television and films, including episodes of the popular NBC series Who Do You Think You Are featuring Paula Deen and Spike Lee, as well as Emmy award-winner Ben Loeterman’s documentary The People v. Leo Frank.
Here's where to direct your letters, calls, and visits:

Governor Nathan Deal
203 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone:  404-656-1776
Fax:  404-657-7332
E-mail ("Contact Us" form):

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle
240 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone:  404-656-5030
Fax:  404-656-6739

Secretary of State Brian Kemp
214 State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
Phone:  404-656-2881
Fax:  404-656-0513

The Web site of the Society of Georgia Archivists provides detailed contact information for individual Representatives and Senators and legislative committee heads as well as tips for communicating effectively with them.

Georgia archivists are trying to keep track of advocacy efforts relating to the Georgia Archives, so please be sure to send copies of any letters you send or summaries of any contacts you make to Kaye Lanning Minchew [kaye-at-troupcountyarchives-dot-org] of the Troup County Archives.

The text of this post is based upon a draft action alert developed by representatives of the Society of Georgia Archivists, the Council of State Archivists, the Society of American Archivists, the National Coalition for History, and other organizations.  The image was created by Georgians Against Closing State Archives.

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