On September 13, 2012, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp issued a press release stating that the Georgia Archives will be closed to the public effective November 1, except by appointment (I'll get to this in a minute). Five days later, he fired 7 full-time archivists, reducing the archives staff from 10 to 3.
That announcement came only days before Georgia Governor Nathan Deal proclaimed October 2012 Georgia Archives Month.
Congratulations, Georgia! You are now the only state in the country without a public Archives.
In a recent interview, Secretary Kemp said that the Archives would operate with limited appointments only one day per week (despite the statutory requirement - O.C.G.A. Section 45-13-50 - that the Archives also be open every Saturday with access to those records that are available during regular business hours on weekdays).
Over 6,000 researchers visited the Georgia Archives in the last fiscal year. If we allot only 30 minutes per appointment, and don't allow for lunches, the waiting list for those researchers to schedule appointments would be over 8 years long. And that's only if no government officials have priority appointments. (Not to mention the fact that you really can't get a lot of research done in 30 minutes, so you'll have to make several appointments at a time or keep going to the end of that 8-year list).
The Georgia Archives is one of the oldest Archives in the country, with historical records dating back to the 1730s. These records are vital to the history of Georgia AND to ensure the transparency of the government. Why is this critical resource at the bottom of the list of priorities? More importantly, why aren't more Georgians upset about it?!
I cannot fathom how the state of Georgia, with its state income tax, ad valorem taxes, and state sales tax cannot figure out how to make their budget work. Yet they still feel that it's okay to invest $4.5 million in state funds so a millionaire campaign contributor can run his fancy new resort on Lake Lanier. Because that's more important than the Archives. Or - better yet - let's throw money at some variable speed limit signs in a laughable attempt to ease congestion on the Perimeter. (Now you know why I don't live in Georgia anymore - and never will again).
But I don't live in Georgia, why does this matter to me? Well, because if our elected officials don't understand why State Archives are an integral part of both our history and our future, the next state to close its archives could be YOURS!
I urge each and every one of you to sign the Petition to Leave the State Archives Open to the Public. Over 16,000 people from all over the world have signed the petition. I'd like to see that number climb to over 20,000. We absolutely need to let the government know that we will not stand idly by and watch them take away our access to public records. After you sign the petition, go to the Georgians Against Closing State Archives on Facebook and "like" their page so you can get periodic updates on this uphill battle.
If you can make it, there is also a rally in support of the Georgia Archives and to reinstate the seven archivists who lost their jobs. The rally will be held at noon on Wednesday, October 3 in the rotunda of the State Capitol.
I will leave you with this quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt (shared by one of the petition signers from Atlanta):
To bring together the records of the past and to house them in buildings where they will be preserved for the use of men and women in the future, a Nation must believe in three things. It must believe in the past. It must believe in the future. It must, above all, believe in the capacity of its own people so to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.
I am stepping down off my soapbox now. Thanks for sticking around!
Do we share any ancestors?
Please email me at lostancestors [at] gmail [dot] com