NCH Letter Urging Georgia Governor to Keep State Archives Open
September 21, 2012
The Honorable Nathan Deal
Governor of the State of Georgia
206 Washington Street
Suite 203, State Capitol
Atlanta, GA 30334
Dear Governor Deal:
On behalf of the National Coalition for History (NCH) and other organizations listed below, I am writing to express our serious concerns regarding the continued uncertainty about the fate of the Georgia Archives, which as you know is currently slated to close on November 1 absent any resolution of funding issues. We appreciate your public commitment to keep the Archives open and accessible to the public.
The National Coalition for History is a consortium of more than 60 organizations that represent tens of thousands of historians, archivists, political scientists, educators, students and researchers, both in the United States and abroad, including many in Georgia. As historians and conservators of American history and culture, we care deeply about the services, programs, and activities provided by the Georgia Archives.
The History Coalition is grateful for your support of the Archives and your public statement that it will remain “open.” However, the word “open” can be interpreted a number of ways. We remain concerned about the lack of specificity regarding the source and amount of funding that will be restored, the fate of the seven employees who were laid off and the effect that these layoffs will have on the services that the Archives will be able to provide the public in the future.
“Open” should mean adequate public access hours and sufficient professional archival staff to provide assistance to Georgia’s citizens. “Open” does not mean that the public should have to make appointments in advance to use the archives and that only three full-time staff are available to handle the entire state archives operations. We urge you to provide adequate funding to allow public access hours five days a week and restore previous staffing levels. With the November 1 deadline only a few weeks away, we hope you will work expeditiously with the Secretary of State and State Legislature to ensure that the public commitment you made is carried out and that there is no interruption of service at the Archives.
We also are concerned that one of the Archives core missions—identifying and preserving records of enduring value—will be hindered by limited budget and staffing. This is not an issue that relates to a single fiscal year. Georgia should provide long-term, consistent support to ensure the sustainability of the State Archives as a public institution. With the proliferation of electronic records, it will become even more of a challenge for the Archives to preserve today’s and tomorrow’s records for use by future generations.
Earlier this week our nation celebrated the 225th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution in Philadelphia. Georgia will mark the 225th anniversary of its ratification of the Constitution on January 2, 2013. It is ironic that at the same time that we are commemorating the signing of our nation’s most sacred document, the State of Georgia might effectively deny its citizens access to their public records. The documents and records in the State Archives are the bricks and mortar with which Georgia’s history was built.
There are a myriad of reasons why public access must be restored, ranging from the protection of legal due process to a citizen genealogist being unable to uncover her family’s history.
One unintended consequence will be the effect that a closure or limitation of public access would have on students – not just undergraduates and graduates, but K-12 schoolchildren as well. For example, in 2012 more than 8,500 Georgia students participated in National History Day, a competition that requires them to choose a historical topic and then conduct research for a presentation. Students are required to use original documents, records, and other primary sources that often are available only in archives and not online. Tens of thousands of Georgia students have benefited from participation in National History Day over the past 30 years. What message are you sending to the next generation of Georgia’s citizens if they learn that they’re unable to do basic research for a school project because they can’t access the archives or there is no staff to guide them when they get there?
We appreciate your public statement in support of keeping the Archives open to the public, especially in light of the difficult fiscal challenges that Georgia faces. We urge you to work with the Secretary of State and State Legislature to ensure sufficient funds are allocated to allow the Archives to provide public access hours five days a week and to restore the previous staffing levels.
National Coalition for History
American Association for State and Local History
American Historical Association
American Political Science Association
American Society for Legal History
Association for Documentary Editing
Association of Centers for the Study of Congress
Civil War Trust
Council of State Archivists
Four Freedoms Park Conservancy
History Associates, Inc.
Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference
National Council on Public History
Organization of American Historians
Society for History in the Federal Government
Society for Military History
Society of American Archivists
Society of American Historians
Southern Historical Association
Cc: Secretary of State Brian Kemp