Just when you thought things were settling down at the Georgia Archives – albeit with inadequate staff and insufficient public hours – another blow comes to light.
The contracts of two additional people – both of whom are important to the safety of the Archives collection – have been cancelled.
The long-time janitorial staffer is gone, replaced by one part-time cleaning person. This person is expected to care for a 172,000-square-foot building.
Anyone who researches using old original documents knows how devastating insect damage can be. A quick periodic spray of insecticide is not adequate or appropriate in a building that houses invaluable documents. Integrated Pest Management is a systematic approach targeted at specific paper-eating pests, rather than broadcasted sprays, which also can be detrimental.
With the steady decrease in staff over the last months, remaining employees have begun to see an increase in damaging insects. The pests apparently are entering the building with collections that belong to tenants. The pests are doubly hard to control because the collections rotate in and out of the building.
Pest prevention has been the combined responsibility of Archives preservationists, janitorial staff and a contract pest control service. Preservationists were laid off by the Secretary of State, and now the full-time janitorial person who was knowledgeable about procedures also is gone. Staffers are concerned that the state may discontinue the contract for pest-control services.
Without the preservation staff and the full-time janitor, efforts at pest control are spotty and not necessarily up to accepted standards for proper document preservation. For example, until recently, trash was emptied daily and eating outside the break room was forbidden.
An additional blow came recently when the contract for the security officer was cancelled.
Archives researchers are accustomed to security procedures that date back many years. Only notepads, laptops and pencils are allowed in the research room. Other belongings, such as folders, handbags, computer cases and backpacks, must be stored in lockers.
Staffers in the research room kept a close eye on activities, and a security guard stationed at the research room door inspected notepads when researchers leave. Researchers generally are an honest lot, but valuable documents – and even pages torn from books – have been known to disappear.
Now there are fewer employees to watch the research room, and the facilities manager sits at the security station just outside the door. Researchers at the Archives recently reported that no one checked items as they left. Accustomed to the drill, several researchers offered their materials to the facilities manager, but were told a check was no longer necessary.
Without enough research room staff to keep an eye on things and no one checking exiting notepads, it would be all too easy to secret out a 200-year-old original deed and just as easy for that deed to end up on E-Bay.
Georgia law (45-13-41) charges the state with the following responsibilities:
“Ensure the retention and preservation of the records of any state or local agency with historical and research value by providing for the application of modern and efficient methods to the creation, utilization, maintenance, retention, preservation, and disposal of records.”
Every citizen of Georgia should be concerned about these new threats to the state’s historic records.
Vivian Price Saffold