Guest Post: “Pit-iful Peach State” (The Georgia Archives Crisis)

In light of this week’s news that Georgia’s Secretary of State plans to close the state archives to the public on November 1, 2012, Buffy asked if I would share my thoughts on the value of archives and why people should care.

I’ve worked in archives since 1996, and sometimes I forget that not everyone knows what archives hold and what archivists do. In brief, archives keep important documents and make them accessible. Some archives, such as the one in which I work, hold records of a specific institution. Some have local history and genealogy. Others hold local, state, or national government records. Many have combinations of these types of collections. Although some records may be restricted or sealed, the goal of archivists is to provide access to the things they can share, not to hoard the records away in darkness.

Budget cuts within the state of Georgia, though, may mean that the state’s records will no longer be available to the public except by appointment. The state archives, already operating with only a skeleton crew, will cease to be open even two days per week. (If the Secretary of State has his way, the archives will absorb the brunt of his department’s 3% ($732,626) cuts although other areas under his domain will still exist: Corporations, Professional Licensing Boards, and Elections.) What does this mean to the people of Georgia? Why should they care if a state agency closes to the public?

For starters, the preamble to the state’s constitution says that it was ordained and established “to perpetuate the principles of free government, ensure justice to all, preserve peace, promote the interest and happiness of the citizen and of the family, and transmit to posterity the enjoyment of liberty.” Let’s look at that charge through an archival lens.

  • How can we “perpetuate the principles of free government, ensure justice to all, [and] preserve peace” if we don’t know what those principles have been? We must have access to our governmental records, our history, in order to know where we’ve come from. Thomas Jefferson said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” We have to maintain our records and share their contents in order to make sure we are offering justice to the widest possible group.
  • The next section says that we are to “promote the interest and happiness of the citizen and of the family.” In addition to our basic rights of freedom and justice, we are entitled to pursue our happiness and follow our interests. For many Georgians, one of these interests is genealogy. We want to know not only where we’ve come from as a state, but also as individuals and families. Genealogists are fierce and frequent users of archival resources. In fact, one of the reasons for building the state archives next to the National Archives Southeast Region office was to enable genealogists to conduct their research more easily. The shared, free parking was seen as a benefit to this user group. The fact that the resources were placed on a university campus was seen as a boon to scholars. Does anyone remember that the citizens of Georgia were excited about these new facilities and offerings?
  • The third part of the preamble says that our constitution exists to “transmit to posterity the enjoyment of liberty.” Again, I would ask how we can share liberty with posterity if we don’t provide access to the documents that enforce that liberty. Even the website of the state archives says that it “identifies and preserves Georgia’s most valuable historical documents.” Denying access to those makes no sense to me.

I would add a variety of points from the state archives’ site on why they exist (including legislative support and property rights) and the documents they hold (including the Royal Charter of the Colony of Georgia). However, I believe that you are capable of investigating these things on your own. I would ask that you spend your time reviewing these items and then writing your legislators and other relevant officials to ask for their support in restoring these cuts to the state archives. In the words of George Santayana, “A country without a memory is a country of madmen.” I am certain the same is true for a state.

Laura M. Botts, M.S.L.I.S., C.A., is Associate Professor and Head of Special Collections at Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University. She is the author of “’A High and Noble Calling’: The Life of Jacob Horace Smith, Jr.” for Viewpoints and the co-author of the Gracy Award-winning “Are the Digital Natives Restless? Balancing Outreach to Traditional Users and the Ne(x)t Generation” for the Society of Georgia Archivists’Provenance. She serves as the Digital Community Coordinator for the Academy of Certified Archivists, the Secretary of the Society of Georgia Archivists, and the Vice President of the Association of Librarians and Archivists at Baptist Institutions. At Mercer she serves on the Homecoming Committee and is the Secretary of the faculty House of Delegates.
 
Botts’s research interests include archival outreach and the use of social media in archives. Her most recent presentation on those topics (“Cracking the QR Code”) was to the Society of American Archivists’ annual meeting. Prior to joining the faculty at Mercer, Botts was the Popular Music Archivist at Georgia State University and the Music Librarian and Archivist for the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

Library of Congress Adds Lincoln Photos To Flickr Photostream

The Library of Congress had added a new photoset featuring President Abraham Lincoln to its Flickr photostream!  You can read more about the new addition at the LOC blog or at the Flickr blog to get the scoop on these historic photos.

Photo Archives 2.0: Flickr and Wikipedia Commons

I just had a great article from The New York Times come into my Google Reader; this article discusses how web 2.0 is transforming photography and photo archiving.   Flickr and Wikipedia Commons are leading the way in making historic photos accessible to everybody—take a look at this informative article!

Participate in National Listening Day, Friday, November 28, 2008

http://www.nationaldayoflistening.org/

National Day of Listening via kwout

Friday, November 28, 2008 is the first ever National Day of ListeningThis event is sponsored by StoryCorpsStoryCorps is an independent nonprofit that has helped more than 40,000 Americans record their stories.  As one of the largest oral history projects of its kind, their mission to help people honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.

What is this national day of listening all about?  Here is how StoryCorps describes it:

This Thanksgiving, StoryCorps asks you to start a new holiday tradition—set aside one hour on Friday, November 28th, to record a conversation with someone important to you. You can interview anyone you choose: an older relative, a friend, a teacher, or a familiar face from the neighborhood.

You can preserve the interview using recording equipment readily available in most homes, such as tape recorders, computers, video cameras or a pen and paper. Our free Do-It-Yourself Guide is easy to use and will prepare you and your interview partner to record a memorable conversation, no matter which method of recording you prefer.

We hope that you’ll make a yearly tradition of listening to and preserving a loved one’s story. The stories you collect will surely become treasured keepsakes, growing more valuable with each passing generation.

I would like to encourage you to participate in this National Day of Listening—at your age, it seemed as though I had forever to spend with my family members, but now that I am adult, I realize how fleeting time is.  So many times I wish that I had videoed or recorded the stories of my beloved late grandmothers who had so many memorable experiences to share.  If you can’t participate on November 28, 2008, consider participating on a day that works for you during this upcoming holiday season—the gift of a living memory is priceless.
 
Read more about how others are planning on to celebrate this National Day of Listening by visiting my links at http://delicious.com/theunquietlibrary/nationaldayoflistening .

Living History: Two Cool Finds

I came across two items this morning that you might enjoy if you are into history, stories, or archives.

First, I stumbled across this wonderful Flickr collection entitled “Mom’s World” by Joey Harrison.  This collection chronicles his mother’s recollections (she provides most of the narratives) and photos of life in Grand Rapids, Michigan between the late 1940s —2007.  If you want to hear first-hand accounts of life from this time period, you must check out the photos and narratives…his mother is sharp as a tack!  What a wonderful way to preserve history for your family and the general public!  Fascinating stories, amazing photography—definitely something you will enjoy.

Secondly, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran this story this morning about a historical collection of rare newspapers donated by Nell McGruder to the Atlanta History Center.  If you are interested in north Georgia history (particularly Cherokee County), this is a great story!  I only wish the Atlanta History Center had the money to digitize and upload the images of these rare newspapers to Flickr a la Library of Congress!  Perhaps they may eventually go to the Georgia Archives? 

While reading The English Patient in 2004 for a course with Dr. Mark Faust at UGA, Dr. Faust wisely observed that history is really a series of stories and accounts, not necessarily objective facts that are black and white.  I think primary sources such as these affirm that view.  It makes me a little sad to think that I never perceived “history” as story until I was a graduate student!  I think more people might take a interest in history and its study if they thought of it as story rather than a series of disconnected facts.

I hope you enjoy these resources!  Let me know what you think!