A little over a week ago, the Secretary of State of Georgia, Brian Kemp, issued a statement declaring that as of November 1, 2012 the Georgia State Archives would be closed to the public (except by very limited appointment). And while both Kemp and Georgia governor Nathan Deal have expressed their regrets and sorrow over the closure, neither has given a solid answer as to if the archives will ever reopen, how many employees will keep their jobs, and what this will mean for the thousands of visitors the Georgia State Archives receives every year.
Both Kemp and Deal have cited budgetary concerns as the reason for the closure. In fact, in an op-ed submitted to the Clayton News Daily, the county newspaper, Kemp explains that closing the archives was a direct response to a budget cut of 3%, or $732,626. He opens his piece with the following: “Any budget, no matter if it is a family budget or a state budget, reflects our priorities. These priorities are not based solely on wants or needs, but rather on what can be afforded. During these difficult economic times, the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office simply cannot afford to keep the State Archives open to the public.” To me, this reads that Kemp and his office do not place a high priority on maintaining access to the governmental, social, and cultural historical documents of their state. To me (and yes, of course, I am biased), this seems like a very serious lack of judgment, thought, and moral fiber.
Luckily, thousands of people in Georgia and across the country agree with me. Local historical societies and interest groups have banded together to protest the closure. Additionally, national groups are voicing their opinions: the American Library Association, the Society of American Archivists, the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians have all sent letters to Governor Deal expressing their concern and distress over the closure and urging Deal to do whatever is necessary to secure funds to keep the archives open.
As dismayed as I was upon hearing the news of the closure, I was equally overjoyed at the outpouring of concern and action. Librarians, archivists, and historians all over the country have banded together to keep something as ludicrous as a state archive closing its doors from happening. This past week, just under a week after the closure announcement, Governor Deal announced that he would “find a way to keep the archives open” (he did so at a press conference that declared October “Archives Month” – the irony of this is too much for me to even talk about). How this will happen, when it will happen, and what it will mean for the employees of the archive has yet to be seen. But one thing has been made clear: devaluing our history, memory, and cultural heritage is not acceptable, no matter how you spin it.
Unfortunately, these hard economic times mean that librarians and archivists have to sometimes work very hard to justify the value of their institutions. Sometimes we have politicians who are on our side and need no convincing to see how important libraries and archives are to society. However, when facing those who don’t, we need to be diligent advocates for the importance of our institutions. As heartened as I was by the outcry at the Georgia State Archives closure, it would have been better had it never been on the chopping block in the first place.