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Speak out now for LVA records

Imagine, if you will, the accumulated history of one of the oldest and most significant of the American colonies.

Birthplace of Presidents and judges, of slaves and indentured servants, of yeomen farmers and teachers and preachers, of sailors and seamstresses… for so many of our families, these are our ancestors.

Imagine, if you will, their records in one place: manuscripts, court files, deeds, probates, births, marriages and deaths.

And now imagine one thing more.

Imagine all of those treasures being systematically locked away from public access by the budgetary axe.

That may seem to be unimaginable — but it is happening and will continue to happen… unless we speak up.

The repository of this accumulated history is the Library of Virginia (LVA), the state library and archives of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Located in Richmond, it is one of the nation’s premier research locations — and its budget has been on the chopping block time and time and time again.

Since 2008, the LVA budget has been cut six times. The maximum employment level needed to fully support the LVA mission is 198 staff positions. Right now, LVA has only 114 staff positions funded:

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The latest round of cuts, in November 2016, forced LVA to cut back its public hours: its research rooms are now only open four days a week, Tuesday through Friday, and only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. In other words, even people who live in Richmond can’t use the library if they work a regular work week schedule.

That’s just the tip of the funding iceberg. Without adequate funding, records that are archived don’t get accessioned — meaning they’re not catalogued and not accessible for research. And without adequate funding, the most fragile and useful records can’t be digitized to make them readily available for research.

There are proposals in front of the Virginia General Assembly — the state legislature — right now to restore critical funds to LVA. Legislative action is the only hope we have of reversing the budget cuts and having the resources restored so that LVA can be there for us when we need it.

The critical needs right now are to restore $428,571 to the LVA budget for reference and circulation staff so that the hours can be extended to six days a week, including Saturday, and to restore $294,250 to the budget for active management: to accession and digitize records and the like.

Please… take a minute if you’re a Virginia resident or — like The Legal Genealogist — a descendant of Virginia ancestors to speak out for the Library of Virginia.

The Virginia Genealogical Society has put together a talking-points letter to give you all the ammunition you need to include in an email to the members of the House and Senate Budget Committees to support the restoration of LVA funds. You can access and download the letter here.

Included on page 3 of the VGS letter is the complete list of legislators whose votes are critical at this stage: the members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee. Their names and their email addresses are all set out there.

What isn’t in the talking-points letter, because it wasn’t known at the time it was written, was the budget amendment number associated with each proposal. So here they are:

• The staff-and-hours request for $428,571 is Budget Amendment 240 #1h on the House side of the legislature and Budget Amendment 240 #1s on the Senate side of the legislature.

• The active management request for $294,250 is Budget Amendment 239 #1h on the House side of the legislature and Budget Amendment 239 #1s on the Senate side of the legislature.

Records access doesn’t just happen. Making all of the great records we rely on as genealogists available takes a commitment. If the legislators don’t hear from us, they will have no way of knowing how much we need these records, how much we need LVA to be open for us to use them.

Now… now is the time for us to speak up.

Won’t you join me in emailing these legislators?

Our voices can make a difference.

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