Monthly Archives: October 2012

It’s All Online, Right?

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

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“Thank You” Doesn’t Begin To Be Sufficient

Weekends in autumn usually find people attending football games or fall festivals.

If you are a researcher in Georgia, the four Fridays and Saturdays in October are especially precious. They are the last chance for patrons to just walk in the door at the Georgia Archives.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Georgia Secretary of State plans to close the Archives to the public on November 1 (except by appointment). He also has announced the termination of seven of the remaining 10 employees.

This past Saturday the Archives was scheduled to be closed, as it has been on every Saturday immediately preceding a Monday holiday since public access was cut to two days a week.

But, the staff of the Georgia Archives, knowing how little time may be left, volunteered to keep the research room open.

They didn’t have to do that. They could have been spending time with their families or doing those traditional fall things. They could have been sending out resumes.

But, these are no ordinary employees. They are dedicated professionals. They believe in the importance of their work. They understand how important the Archives is to Georgians.

They take pride – and rightfully so – in the job that they do. During the last few lean budget years, they have seen their colleagues cut, and they have filled in the gaps.

If the state of Georgia allows the closing of the Archives and lawmakers allocate enough money for the facility to reopen after the coming legislative session, the state will lose these knowledgeable, experienced and obviously generous employees.

Such a move is short-sighted at best. Rebuilding the institution that was once one of the best in the nation will take years and cost more than if it had been allowed to remain open.

Closing and reopening simply is not good enough.

The staff and the citizens of Georgia deserve better. Georgia needs the Archives, and it needs these dedicated public servants.

Vivian Price Saffold

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It’s Not Over: The Future of Our History Is At Stake

The last two weeks have been filled with emotional conversation about the Georgia Archives.

After Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s announcement that he would close the Archives to the public and terminate seven of the agency’s 10 employees, supporters around the state rallied, aided by media coverage and facilitated by the speed of social media and email.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s ironically-timed ceremony at which he proclaimed October as Archives Month gave him an opportune platform from which to announce that he would find funding to keep the Archives open. Supporters, predictably, were ecstatic.

There were no details, and since the proclamation, the governor has remained silent. The Secretary of State stands by his decision to close the Archives and terminate the employees. As a constitutional officer, Kemp has complete control over his department’s personnel.

Word quickly spread, and advocates breathed a sigh of relief: the governor stepped in and “saved the Archives.” The protest was successful, the crisis averted. Time to move on.

After the initial euphoria, however, thoughtful supporters have begun to realize that the announcement might not have been the news they had been hoping for.

Will the Governor use emergency funds to maintain Archives service at the current level – with 10 employees? Will the Archives remain open, but with only three employees? Will the Governor exempt the Archives from cuts in the coming year’s budget or reduce the amount of cuts? Depending on the answers, the Archives could close as planned on Nov. 1 and to re-open after the legislative session, possibly with three staffers or inexperienced new-hires.

The Archives currently is open only two days a week. Users could face even more inconvenient – potentially impossible – access to records, if staff is cut or the Archives closed. Secretary Kemp apparently believes that a system of appointments satisfies the state Open Meetings law, which mandates “reasonable” access. That is a matter for debate and perhaps for the courts.

The state-of-the-art facility in Morrow was designed for only one purpose: the careful preservation of millions documents and artifacts. Its staff has been trained to carry out that mission, as well as to assist the public.

The Georgia Archives is not just a resource for hobby genealogists and history buffs or the repository for evidence of our cultural history. Professionals from lawyers to watchdogs to authors to government officials rely on the records, often to aid Georgia citizens.

Access to records held at the Archives is vital to transparent government. Not having “reasonable” access to these records will prevent citizens from learning about what decisions were made, when and why.

All Georgia departments have been ordered by the Governor to cut another three percent from their budgets for the coming year. Of course, after several years of cuts, there are no easy choices. Secretary Kemp chose to take all $730,000 from the Archives, leaving other divisions untouched. This small amount is all that stands between closure and maintaining the current level of service.

If the Archives closes, Georgia will rank 50th among states in terms of access to the records that belong to its citizens. It will be the only Archives in the nation without public hours – a shameful statistic.

The governor, the secretary and the state legislature need to hear from Georgia citizens that this is not acceptable.

The struggle to keep the Archives open and the staff in place is not over.

Note: This article ran in the DeKalb Champion/Free Press newspaper on Friday, Oct. 5, as well as in other newspapers around the state.

Vivian Price Saffold

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The Fire Department and the Georgia Archives

Thought for the day:

How is the Fire Department like the Georgia Archives?

In case of a fire at your home or business, you dial 911. Fire-fighters arrive promptly with equipment to put out the fire. The Fire Department exists to protect people and property from unexpected catastrophe.

If you have a dispute over the title to your home, you call an attorney. That attorney researches deed records at the Georgia Archives. The Archives exists to protect the rights of people and property.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp wants to restrict public access to the Archives to appointments. He says this is justified because the Archives does not generate revenue.  The Fire Department does not generate revenue. Would you make an appointment for a fire-fighter?

If the budget of your local fire department were cut to the point that fire-fighters could not respond in timely fashion, citizens would demand funding.

Now is the time for citizens to demand that the governor and secretary of state work together to keep the Archives open.

Vivian Price Saffold

 

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Rally Draws Vocal Supporters

More than 100 passionate supporters heard several equally passionate speakers at Wednesday’s rally in support of the Georgia Archives.

Protestors outside the capitol called for the Archives to remain open, the employees to remain and Secretary of State Brian Kemp to be impeached.

Speakers inside the capitol added their voices., speakers, including former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr, University of Georgia history professor Jim Cobb, Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society chairman Emma Davis-Hamilton, two state legislators, Sen. Gail Davenport from Clayton County and Rep. Debbie Buckner from Talbot County, and Morrow Mayor J. B. Burke

Former U. S. Rep. Bob Barr called the Secretary of State’s decision to close the Archive “short sighted” and questioned the legality of closing the facility. “Reasonable access” to the historical records, he said, “is not discretionary. It is mandatory… it essential to having a free people and an educated people.”

“The records do not belong to Brian Kemp or Nathan Deal,” Barr said, prompting loud applause and cheering. “They need to hear from us, politely and respectfully, but loud and clear, that this decision will not stand.”

Closing the Archives, with its historic documents dating back to 1733, said University of Georgia Professor Jim Cobb, “is like wrapping up the Hope diamond and putting it under the seat of my truck.”

The $730,000 needed to keep the Archives open with the current service level and employees, he pointed out, is less than half the operating budget of Go Fish, former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s much publicized “educational center” in Perry.

Prof. Cobb suggested that Georgia increase its cigarette tax to the national average, a move he said would raise $500 million. Or, he said sarcastically, the state could sell special license plates: “Historically ignorant, but a great place to smoke.”

Comparing the closing the Archives to the burning of courthouses by Union Gen. W. T. Sherman on his march through Georgia, Prof. Cobb said the state is “handing the keys to the Archives to old Billy Sherman.”

Emma Davis-Hamilton, chairman of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, grew up hearing stories about her ancestral home. “Georgia had a bad name,” she said. At the Georgia Archives she found records verifying that her ancestors had registered to vote and owned land shortly after the Civil War. The story of black Americans may not be in history books, she said, but it is in the Georgia Archives. “Don’t lock my history away again.”

Sen. Davenport spoke about the economic impact of the Archives on Morrow, Clayton County and the state of Georgia. She received a standing ovation when she declared that “on Oct. 31 no one should lose their jobs.”

Rep. Buckner agreed, adding that the start-up time for new employees would be more costly than keeping the current employees in place. She said she understands the dilemma caused by declining revenues, but keeping the Archives open “is not only the legal thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced last month that the Georgia Archives would absorb the entire three percent budget cut required of his department. He also said that seven of the remaining 10 employees would be terminated.

Kaye Minchew, co-chairman of the Coalition to Preserve the Georgia Archives, told the supporters that she hopes “we’re in good shape with the supplemental budget.” However, she added that she expects the Archives to close from November to mid-March.
Dianne Cannestra, chairman of the Friends of Georgia Archives and History, moderated the event.

Vivian Price Saffold

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Rally Reminder

The rally in support of the Georgia Archives and the seven terminated employees will be Wednesday, Oct. 3 beginning at noon in the rotunda of the state capitol.  Signs are not permitted in the capitol building. Signs will be allowed on the capitol grounds at the Washington Street (west) entrance. Please note that signs must be hand-held — no sticks or stakes. Please join the effort to keep the Archives open to the public.

 

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