In this age of digital imaging and online access, many researchers – especially novices – naively believe that everything you need to know about Georgia history and genealogy is on the Internet.
Concerning the looming closure of the Georgia Archives, one researcher recently said, “I hope they have everything scanned and online before they close.”
Right. That certainly would solve the problem. Researchers could access documents from the comfort of their home or office computers or even mobile devices. The struggle over public access to the Archives would be moot.
More than not likely. Downright impossible.
The Georgia Archives has been scanning and placing online documents for several years. The Virtual Vault has been hugely successful. Much of the funding has come from private sources, including the R.J. Taylor, Jr. Foundation, the Alfred Holt Colquitt Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Georgia Genealogical Society.
However, what is online – in the Virtual Vault and every other Internet source – is a miniscule portion of the data that exists. The Archives contains millions of historical state and local records dating back more than 275 years. Millions. More arrive continuously, as governments decommission older documents.
Many of the older documents have been folded and stored for so long that special, time-consuming techniques must be employed simply to get them ready for scanning. Otherwise, just the process of unfolding could be catastrophic.
Even with unlimited staff and equipment, getting “everything” online will take many years. How many? Let’s just say that it will not happen during the lifetime of anyone reading this blog.
In one of many ironic, short-sighted aspects of Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s proposal, the supervisor of the scanning project and the person who uploads data to the Internet are among those Archives employees whose termination has been announced.
Although organizations may continue to fund the talented interns who do a good bit of the work, the entire future of the online project is in jeopardy. The two remaining archivists will try to take up the slack, but just how much reasonably can be expected from these overworked souls?
If you did not have anything else to worry about, consider this: what happens if the state cuts funding required to keep the Virtual Vault up and running?
What we thought was the future of research could be a thing of the past.
Vivian Price Saffold