The news earlier this week of budget cuts that are forcing one of America’s foremost research repositories — the Library of Virginia — to curtail reading room hours1 has genealogists in a tizzy.
The one question The Legal Genealogist keeps getting: “How can I help?”
And the answer is really simple.
There are three things we can all do.
As genealogists, as researchers, as family historians, as people who care.
Every last one of us.
The first one is critical for every one of us, in Virginia or not, with Virginia ancestors or not:
Understand that the attack on records access and on the budgets of libraries and archives isn’t limited to Virginia.
This is a constant battle, one that we’ve seen played out recently in Georgia2 and Indiana3… in Oklahoma4 and in Arizona5… It’s just Virginia’s turn this time, and it will happen again elsewhere, you can count on that.
The second thing we can do: join up.
What one person can’t do alone, large groups of people can do together. So join the genealogical society for every area where you have research interests or ancestors.
If you care about the Library of Virginia, the state library and archives of the Old Dominion, join the Virginia Genealogical Society. (Yes, I know the website is under construction. Keep checking back — you’ll be able to join online soon — or use the contact form.)
Our voices are heard much better and much stronger when we speak in unison.
But there’s a third thing, and this is just as important as the first two: use the library or archives.
Yeah, we all want to sit and home and research at 3 a.m. in our bunny slippers. But the vast majority of genealogically significant documents aren’t microfilmed and aren’t digitized and aren’t available online. They’re in those archives and libraries we say we care about.
So… when was the last time you were there?
You see, the library or archives can’t ask for funding if it isn’t serving the public — and that means we have to be there and use the records. Genealogist and archivist Melissa LeMaster Barker explained this on Facebook:
…my archivist heart breaks for the Library of Virginia and the budget cuts they are experiencing. The staff cuts, hours and days that are being cut and services that are being cut as a result. This awesome repository is not the first one in recent years to experince such a loss. I remember quite well the cuts that occured at the Tennessee State Library and Archives just a few years ago that were devastating to the facility. While I applaud Judy’s call to action for us to contact those in charge and let them know how we feel, I also want to say to each and every genealogist, family history researcher, historian, author and anyone else that uses archives and libraries, USE THEM! One of the consequences of not using our wonderful repositories is budget cuts. If those that are in charge see a decline in the use of the facilites, they will cut their budgets. I know that we love to sit at home with our jammies and fuzzy slippers on doing research online, we have got to visit these archives, call them on the phone, email them and research in their records. I was a speaker at the Society of Tennessee Archivists Fall Seminar this past weekend and I asked the question “How many have seen a decline in genealogists coming in your door?” and almost everyone in the room raised their hand and these are archivists! So, visit the archives, call them, email them, use these facilities so maybe other budgets won’t get cut.6
And, when you go there, make sure you sign in. The facility won’t get credit for serving our needs if we don’t register our interest in a tangible format that the repository can use to prove it’s being used and it’s meeting people’s needs.
Use or lose.
We can all do this.
- See Judy G. Russell, “Dark days in Richmond,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 2 Nov 2016 (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 4 Nov 2016). ↩
- Ibid., “Archives and Ancestors,” posted 15 Sep 2012. ↩
- Ibid., “Speak out for Indiana!,” posted 23 Jan 2015. ↩
- Ibid., “Eyes on Oklahoma,” posted 18 Mar 2014. ↩
- Ibid., “Raising Arizona,” posted 27 July 2015. ↩
- Status Update, Melissa LeMaster Barker, posted 2 Nov 2016, Facebook.com (https://www.facebook.com/ : accessed 3 Nov 2016). ↩
You do know that the Indiana State Library got its funding back, correct? Folks from other states wrote in that they came to Indianapolis to do research, and they SPENT MONEY while they were here. I understand there were other issues such as lack of information for the person who was instructed to “make cuts in the budget.” But we do have a reprieve. And progress is being made on a new location for the Indiana State Archives, which is now in a warehouse. I do think it helps for people out of state as well as in state to make their interest known.
Another danger to our records is the move to get rid of microfilm by obsolescence. The records are, instead, now scanned to hard drives that may last at most five years (or until a certain company in Seattle decrees the file format used is no longer supported or the computer catches a Russian virus).
NARA and publishers have raised film prices to the point libraries and individuals can no longer afford to purchase this format.
Libraries find that companies who made readers are out of business and cannot find parts for existing machines. The new computer microfilm scanners cost five to ten thousand dollars and often break after a year or two.
At this rate within 10 years the microfilm collections of libraries will become almost useless. Libraries help with this conspiracy when they try to get rid of microfilm.
Thankfully the LDS continues to support the filming and scanning of records. They may have to get in the reader and film business as well.
NEHGS today highlighted to its members a Washington Post article from the 5th about a data store the Virginia Library recently made available that I’d never heard about.
Key quote: “After lengthy processing and cataloguing, all the images are available to the public on the state library’s website. The library is hoping readers will volunteer to transcribe the letters for easier study.”