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October 15, 2012

State archives victim of budget cuts

MILLEDGEVILLE — Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced public closure of the state archives Sept. 13. The Georgia State Archives is a $732,626 required budget cut victim.

Effective Nov. 1, the archives, located in Morrow, will be closed to the public. After this date, visits are available by appointment only, limited based on the schedule of remaining staff.

Kemp addressed the difficult budget cut in a Sept. 13 press release.

“The decision to reduce public access to the historical records of this state was not arrived at without great consternation. To my knowledge, Georgia will be the only state in the country that will not have a central location in which the public can visit to research and review the historical records of their government and state,” Kemp said. “The staff that currently works to catalog, restore and provide reference to the state of Georgia’s permanent historical records will be reduced. The employees that will be let go through this process are assets to the state of Georgia and will be missed.”  

Currently, the building opens for research Friday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Georgia State Archives already offered the most restrictive hours nationally.

Twin Lakes Library System Director Barry Reese said allowing visits by appointment will only deter people needing the information.

“Anytime people’s access to information is being restricted, it’s never a good thing. Archives are kind of like public libraries. People don’t think about all the resources we provide until we are threatened,” Reese said. “If there is any good to come out of this, I think a lot more people are aware of the state archives. If there is a silver lining in this dark cloud, I think that’s it.”

The Morrow facility houses legal, property, state government, county and family records dating as far back as 1733.

Retired educator and local history specialist Charles Brown said some public records might be lost at the local level due to a fire or issue at the county courthouse. A person requiring the archives for certain documents could be out of luck.

“People who are looking for their heritage or genealogy sources are going to have a difficult time getting to that information. They will not have access to that material with the archives closed,” Brown said. “Georgia will be one of the states where information is available and not accessible.”

Brown sees trouble for out-of-state visitors who don’t have the time to go to the archives on a special day and make an appointment.

“I see it as a decision that was hastily made without looking at the long term effects,” Brown said.

Georgia College professor and university historian Dr. Bob Wilson’s past students researched the Georgia State Penitentiary that was located on campus. Finding those records, now housed at the archives, would be troublesome at best these days.

“It’s a high priority item. If we don’t have access to our legacy, things can be manipulated,” Wilson said. “It’s embarrassing. Georgia is better than that.”

Being involved with public libraries taught Reese to look at the budget cuts as permanent, though he hopes service is restored. Reese said the closure doesn’t project a transparent state image.

“You hate for it to reflect that. It creates the impression that our government doesn’t want us to have access,” Reese said.

Wilson pointed out the need for professional archivists at the state facility. Staff reductions leave duties of document maintenance to volunteers. This is a bad decision, according to the Georgia College professor.

A Facebook page “Georgians Against Closing State Archives” continues gaining likes and followers. Concerned citizens totaling more than 17,100 nationally signed a change.org petition by press time.

Kemp maintains he will fight to restore the cut during the next legislative session.

“With the budget crunch, cuts have to be made, but hopefully all of the attention will eventually convince the state that hurting the public archives, public libraries and hurting things that assist people in staying informed and prepared to be better citizens shouldn’t be tolerated,” Reese said.

The petition against the Georgia State Archive public closure is located at

http://chn.ge/Omcycy. 

For hours and times, visit the Georgia Secretary of State's website. http://www.sos.georgia.gov/

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