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Budget cuts imperil premier research library

It is one of the finest and most important research facilities anywhere in the United States — home of the records of one of America’s earliest colonies and gateway for so many of our ancestors into this new land.

It is the Library of Virginia (LVA) — the state library and archives in Richmond.

And its very future is at risk because of Virginia budget cuts.

budgetThe proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 (and beyond) for the Commonwealth of Virginia, proposed by Governor Terence R. McAuliffe, would be devastating for LVA and for all of us — The Legal Genealogist included — who regularly use and rely on its resources for our research.

That budget proposes to slash more than $600,000 from the LVA tab for the fiscal year — with the bulk of it being in library staff. As many as 15 existing library staff positions would have to be cut. And the cuts beyond 2017 could be worse.

The State Librarian, Dr. Sandra G. Treadway, has explained the library’s situation:

Given the repeated budget reductions that the Library has experienced since 2008, we have virtually no discretionary money left. We buy very few books anymore, relying on donations and some acquisitions support from our Foundation and from groups such as the Friends of the Virginia State Archives. We have cut our conservation budget deeply over the past few years and use mostly non-general funds now for preservation. Our IT costs have gone up exponentially as it takes a lot of human beings and equipment to maintain the level of digital collections that we have made available through our website. Since 2008 our operating budget has been reduced by more than $3.8 million and this cut will bring that number to nearly $4.5 million. Having already eliminated most discretionary funding, we have no where else to go to find the $633,000 we will lose but to salaries as that is what most of our state funding covers.

For us as researchers, this is devastating. LVA is already operating well below its allotted staffing levels, and there’s a very real risk that — because of these cuts — LVA may have to close on Saturdays and perhaps even on other days because there just isn’t enough manpower to keep it open.

If that’s not bad enough, the budgetary shortfalls in Virginia aren’t going away — and further budget cuts are threatened for fiscal year 2018. Dr. Treadway continued: “We are very worried about next year’s budget however, as we do know that additional reductions will be necessary. Decisions about next year haven’t yet been made, and if you or others wish to share your concern about this situation and ask that the Library be spared further reductions in the budget for fiscal year 2018, that might make a difference.”

Whether we live in Virginia or merely research there, as a community, we can’t stand idly by and let that happen. We’re all affected by what happens in Virginia and we simply can not afford to let a state as important to genealogy as Virginia walk away from records access. So whether we live in Virginia or not, we all need to speak out.

For those who live in Virginia, I implore you — take the time to email Governor Terry McAuliffe, Secretary of Education (the Library’s overarching department) Dietra Trent, and your elected representatives. You can contact the Governor and the Secretary of Education by email at http://governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/. For your legislator, see http://virginiageneralassembly.gov/, then click on “Members and Session” on the left hand side of the page, then on “Who’s my Legislator” in the center of the page, in the fine print. After filling in your address, your legislators and their email and snail mail addresses will be listed.

If you live in Virginia, remember: there’s an election in just a few weeks. As a Virginia citizen, you’re in a unique position to remind the members of the Legislature that you’re a genealogist and you vote. And that how you vote is very likely to depend on what your legislator does about this issue.

For those of us whose ancestors are from Virginia, we need to take the time as well to let Virginia decision-makers know how we feel. Okay, maybe we can’t vote in Virginia elections. But we can make it clear to the elected officials there that one thing we do have is a commitment to research. When we research, we travel. And when we travel, we spend money. In their districts. With their local businesses. Their local hotels and restaurants and souvenir shops (not to mention their local museums, historical societies and more).

Take a look through your genealogy program. See exactly what counties your folks came from. Match up those locations with the members of the Legislature and write letters. Send emails. Introduce yourself (and your ancestors) and tell these folks why LVA is important to you.

Losing access to records is always a terrible thing for genealogists and researchers of all stripes. Losing access because it’s easy to attack library and archives when the budget axe has to fall — that’s even worse.

We can’t sit idly by and let this happen.

Let’s speak out, for LVA, for records access, for this premier research facility and its future.

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