Following Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s announcement last Friday that, due to budget cuts, the state’s archives would close starting Nov. 1 except by appointment, the governor on Wednesday pledged he would work to keep them public.
Gov. Nathan Deal made the promise to a group in attendance at a Wednesday proclamation signing in Atlanta to declare October Archives Month in Georgia, a spokersperson with his office confirmed.
Stefanie Joyner, executive director of the Cherokee Historical Society, said Wednesday she was glad to hear the archives could remain open to the public.
“It is good news,” Joyner said. “I’m glad they are listening. I know budgets are tight, but that just seems very, very extreme to take those steps.”
And the local historical society is doing its part to support the cause, as the group has posted on its Facebook a message encouraging Cherokeeans to sign their name on a Change.org petition that had almost 14,000 signatures as of Wednesday.
On Facebook, the “Georgians Against Closing State Archives” group has over 3,000 “likes.”
Deal was made aware of the signatures at Wednesday’s proclamation signing.
Kemp’s current plan is to have three employees, an archive director, archivist and building supervisor available to accept limited public appointments. The decision comes on the heels of Gov. Nathan Deal’s request that most state agencies trim their spending by 3 percent and Kemp said his department must cut more than $730,000 from its budget.
The archives include the state’s historical records dating to the 1730s, and if Deal does not move forward with his promise, Georgia will become the only state without access to its historical records on a full-time basis.
“They’re valuable resources, past and present,” Joyner said. “It’s our history and we refer people to (the Georgia State Archives) often. It’s important to make sure it is protected, cared for and accessible.
Joyner said she refers about one person each month to the state archives, one of whom was Reinhardt University Professor Dr. Ken Wheeler, who said even a temporary closure would “(do) a lot of damage” in the state of Georgia.
“Georgia State Archives is an amazing repository of where Georgians have been in the past (and is) used constantly by historians, genealogists and other interested citizens,” Wheeler said.
He added that many graduate students studying history make decisions about where to pursue their degrees based on accessibility to state archives and the reduction of hours will likely hinder potential students from coming to study at state universities.
“Some of our most promising young historians will bypass studying the state of Georgia and that is to the detriment of the state,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler echoed Joyner’s sentiments about the down economy and necessary budget cuts, but said the move “pushes beyond a crucial line” when historical documents are inaccessible to a large portion of the public. He also voiced concerns about how long it may take to make an appointment for those who may need the information in a timely manner.
“The fact that the Organization of American Historians is weighing in on this shows it is of national news and we should recognize what a splendid resource it is and what a tragedy it would be for the citizens of the state to lose access,” Wheeler said.