In the upcoming January 2012 session of the Georgia General Assembly, legislators must cut 2% from the state budget. One of the cuts will be to the Georgia Department of Archives and History, which will be forced to close to the public. While the Archives has continued (and will continue) to service government officials and agencies, previous budgetary cuts reduced the hours open to the public from five to two days per week. Further cuts could not only reduce the Archives’ ability to carry out its mandate (to protect and preserve important government documents across many agencies), but will also completely obfuscate these documents from public review, a necessary check on government by its citizens.
These closings have affected a large number of genealogists, historians, lawyers, and other professionals across not only Georgia but other states as well. I have personally felt the sting in a very sharp way: when the Archives reduced its public hours to two days a week, I was forced to cut out the bulk of my client work. The costs of travel to the Archives (which, by necessity, include an overnight stay due to the length and difficulty of the drive) for these two days, compared to previous travel during the week, increased my fees to the point that I felt they were unreasonable.
Further, these cuts have also deeply affected a project I’ve been working on for two years, a compilation of a little-known but incredibly important set of documents that would have a huge impact on early 19th century African American research in Georgia. I will not go into the lengths I’ve travelled to examine and transcribe these documents (there’s not enough room here for that!), but I will say that if the Archives closes to the public, I will not be able to continue with this project, which could be a significant source of personal future income.
Multiply my struggle by hundreds of other professionals who use the Archives and who depend upon it in order to procure a livelihood, income taxed by the state of Georgia. Imagine the number of genealogists and others who instead of spending their yearly vacation in Morrow at the Archives will now do so (and have already done so) in states where the Archives is open a full week. (Georgia’s Archives now has the “dubious disctinction” of being open to the public the least number of hours out of all state Archives.) Think of the loss of income to hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and retail stores, all of which are taxed by the state, when these researchers and others take their business elsewhere. Would the potential income to the state from these and other activities centered around the Archives not be enough to offset a good portion, if not the bulk, of its budgetary needs?
All these considerations aside, the state of Georgia has an obligation, legal and otherwise, to allow the public to review all governmental documents. If the Archives closes to the public, thousands of important documents will be lost to this review process, thus hiding the government’s activities from public oversight. All citizens should be concerned over such an act. As important is the fact that with continued cuts to its budget, the Archives may no longer be able to maintain enough staff to properly preserve the documents it is required by law to conserve.
Please take the time to write to Governor Nathan Deal and your local representative about this important issue. If the Archives’ closure has affected you in some way, please let your legislators know. If not, express your support of the Archives’ mission and importance to the citizens of this state. Ask that enough money be set aside for the Archives to remain open to the public five days per week, and that the state pay the full rent on the building where the Archives is housed. Please also take the time to write a letter of support to Secretary of State Brian Kemp. Don’t wait until after Christmas!