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Virginia restores funding!

DNA Sunday has to wait.

Because there’s news out of the Old Dominion that’s just too good to wait.

We won.

YOU won.

You with your emails and your cards and your letters.

You with your willingness to speak out for records access and for one of the nation’s premiere research repositories.

You won the support of the Virginia General Assembly in the budget that will go into effect on 1 July 2017.

You got substantial funding restored to the Library of Virginia.

The Library of Virginia is the state library and archives of Virginia. As such, it’s one of the finest and most important research facilities anywhere in the United States — home of the records of the gateway for so many of our ancestors into this new land.

It’s where the accumulated history of one of the oldest and most significant of the American colonies can be found.

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.

So very many of our families’ records are held in this one place: manuscripts, court files, deeds, probates, births, marriages and deaths.

And because of budget cuts we have been systematically losing access.

For years, LVA had been operating well below its allotted staffing levels. Then last year a devastating axe fell: more than $600,000 from the LVA tab for the fiscal year — with the bulk of it being in library staff and directly impacting library hours. The net result: as of November of last year, we as researchers can only use the research rooms during regular working hours — 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — four weekdays a week. No evenings. No weekends.

Worse in some ways is the staff loss. Competent experience dedicated archivists with a love for the records, gone because of financing. New record acquisitions unaccessioned, meaning they can’t be catalogued and added to the access system. Existing record sets can’t be prepared for digitization. Digitized records can’t be put online.

This year, the Virginia Genealogical Society and genealogists across the nation fought back. We spoke out against the systematic loss of access and funding. We told the legislature why LVA needed a fuller, broader budget.

As of yesterday the word came out of Richmond: the final budget for 2017 is now in place.

And we won.

Not everything we might have hoped for in our wish list, no. But enough to restore the library hours to six days a week as of July 1, 2017, and enough to bring back two critical staff positions then as well: a private papers archivist to help accession and catalogue incoming private papers and a digital records archivist.

The private papers archivist will be able to speed access to things like diaries and Bibles and wartime letters that continue to flow into LVA. Things like the surviving burial records from Evergreen Cemetery, an historic private African-American cemetery in Richmond. Crucial records. And the digital records archivist can do things like work on getting historical records like pre-1912 birth and death records and pre-1936 marriage records ready to be digitized and put online.

There’s no question how this fight was won.

You won it.

Thank you for speaking out. For caring about records access. For taking the time to let the legislators know that it’s all of our history — and we will fight for it.

You won.

Time to plan that Virginia research trip… any time after July 1 when the new budget takes effect…

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