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Some good news from Georgia

Thursday’s announcement of a deal to maintain current access levels at the Georgia State Archives is a good news – maybe good news – maybe bad news type of thing.

There are an awful lot of open questions that require a careful watchful eye — some of which may end up being answered in a way that’s better than we could have hoped for, and some of which may definitely end up as bad news indeed.

The agreement was announced by Governor Nathan Deal’s office on Thursday afternoon in a press release that read:

Gov. Nathan Deal and Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today that the state will restore $125,000 to Kemp’s budget to keep the Georgia State Archives open to Georgians for the remainder of the budget year.

“Georgia’s Archives are a showcase of our state’s rich history and a source of great pride,” said Deal. “I worked quickly with my budget office and Secretary Kemp to ensure that Georgians can continue to come to Morrow to study and view the important artifacts kept there. I appreciate Secretary Kemp’s commitment to work with me to find a solution.”

The extra funding provides for Georgia State Archives to be open to the public through June 30 of next year. On July 1, the Georgia Archives will be transferred to University System of Georgia, pending approval of the move by the General Assembly. This transfer will include appropriations required for operation and assets of the Georgia Archives. Additional staff will be provided by USG at that time. Deal and Kemp intend to find efficiencies by consolidating the Archives under the University System of Georgia, just as the state has sought to do with the library system.

“From the beginning of this budget process, I have stated that it was my hope that current access to the Archives could be maintained,” Kemp said. “I greatly appreciate Governor Deal’s leadership and recognize the difficult decisions that had to be made in order to identify this funding. He has proposed a plan that supports Archives not just this year, but for years to come.”

Deal’s budgetary commitment allows Georgia State Archives to maintain its current access hours.1

So there are three parts to this announcement: current access; shifting the Archives to the University System of Georgia; and archives staffing. That’s what I mean by “good news – maybe good news – maybe not so good news.”

Good news: current access

There’s no doubt at all: maintaining the current access levels at the Archives — now open two days a week, Fridays and Saturdays — instead of shifting over to an appointment-only schedule is definitely Good News, in capital letters.

Nothing — nothing at all — about the proposed appointment-only system had any chance of succeeding in meeting the needs of researchers, scholars and others for records access. The system would have provided only a tiny fraction as much access to actual documents as before2 and researchers — whether Georgia residents or not — were not being allowed to make more than one appointment in a month.3

So in our haste to say there’s more that needs to be done, let’s stop for a second and say a great big Thank You to Governor Deal and Secretary Kemp for keeping the doors open on Fridays and Saturdays through the end of next June. We came awfully close — too damned close, if you’ll forgive the vernacular — to losing that. We write enough letters saying what ought to be done — let’s take a minute to write them letters thanking them for what they have done.

Maybe good news: the University connection

I know the part of the deal integrating the Archives into the University System of Georgia isn’t a Done Deal — note the language in the press release about “pending approval of the move by the General Assembly.” But I can’t help but think this has the potential to be good news and perhaps even Very Good News, again with capital letters.

First off, we need to understand the magnitude and power of the University System of Georgia. According to its website, “The University System is composed of 35 higher education institutions including 4 research universities, 2 regional universities, 13 comprehensive universities, 14 state colleges, 2 two-year colleges and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. The Georgia Public Library System, encompassing approximately 389 facilities in 61 library systems throughout Georgia, is also part of the University System.”4

The resources of the University System are vastly greater than those available to the Archives alone — and the “fit” of the Archives into the University System is a whole lot better: maintaining, preserving and allowing access to records is far more in keeping with the underlying mission of the University System and its Public Library System than it is with the mission of the Secretary of State’s office. And remember that the Archives already has a relationship with Clayton State University — which just happens to offer a degree in archival studies.

Georgia public libraries are already participating in a pilot program to launch a Digital Public Library of America5 and the Digital Library of Georgia is already a model in the field. The special collections in the libraries of the various component institutions of the University System of Georgia complement the public and donated records in the Archives very nicely … and better integration could simply be fabulous for researchers.

While I understand there’s a great deal of concern over the physical facility in Morrow, I can only note that I don’t know of a single university or college or even public library in Georgia that’s only open two days a week. (Clayton State University’s library is open seven days a week for no less than nine hours a day. Just sayin’ …) So integration in that respect could be a Very Good thing as well.

We don’t know as yet if this will ever happen. And we don’t know under what conditions the Archives will be integrated into the University System if it does happen. But it sure looks promising and hopeful… let’s keep a careful eye out for developments on that front.

Maybe bad news: the staff

You’ll notice the total absence of a single solitary word in the press release about the seven archivists who have pink slips effective at the end of the month. Right now, there are only 10 people working at the archives. Losing seven would be a disaster. A total, unmitigated, no-doubt-about-it disaster.

Today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that only two of the seven will be saved in this deal.6 And the press release says only that, when and if the Archives is transferred to the University System, “(a)dditional staff will be provided by USG at that time.”

Losing five experienced people knowledgeable with Georgia records is Bad News. In capital letters. Among them are the conservator and preservation manager responsible for the conservation and preservation of the Archives collections. We can’t have any idea now whether any of these positions could be salvaged once the Legislature comes back into session in January, or whether any of these specific people could be picked up by the University System as part of the transition of the Archives, or…

So this one has to stay on the books for now as maybe bad news… and we have to keep working to save these people and their vast institutional knowledge for the benefit not just of Georgians but all of us who are interested in Georgia records.

Bottom line

We’re in a win-some, lose-some position with the Georgia Archives for now. Better off than we were, for certain, but still a matter of no small concern.


 
SOURCES

  1. Governor Nathan Deal – Office of the Governor, Press Releases, “Deal, Kemp to keep Georgia’s Archives open,” posted 18 Oct 2012 (http://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases : accessed 19 Oct 2012).
  2. See Judy G. Russell, “Georgia Archives: by appointment only,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 16 Oct 2012 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 19 Oct 2012).
  3. Ibid., comment by Jenny Lanctot, posted 16 Oct 2012).
  4. USG Facts,” University System of Georgia, Newsroom (http://www.usg.edu/news/ : accessed 19 Oct 2012).
  5. See “Ga. one of 7 states involved in national digital library project,” The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph, online edition, posted 16 Oct 2012 (http://www.macon.com/ : accessed 19 Oct 2012).
  6. Krista Torres, “5 Georgia Archives employees will still lose jobs,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution, online edition, posted 19 Oct 2012 (http://www.ajc.com : accessed 19 Oct 2012).
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