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Monday, September 24, 2012

Do We Have A Voice?

I am spending a busy day searching for blog posts about the Georgia Archives, the SSDI, and other records access issues that are of interest to the genealogy community. I came across this post Some good news for Georgia State Archives, but bad news (that’s not really news) in a larger sense and a comment by Steve Ammidown hit me in the gut with a large boulder. He said...

"Let me start by saying that I’m a first semester student in archives, and a newbie to SAA, so I’m sure these conversations have been had before.
Coming from an activist and non-profit background, I was surprised to learn that SAA does not include a 501(c)(4) component, and that there wasn’t generally a lot of organized advocacy around archives on a national level. Changing this seems like it should be a top priority for the community. But how do we sell it? How do we push a normally reticent profession out of the shadows?
There’s one clear answer- it’s about our jobs. Nobody is going to stand up for archivists, be they professionals or students, if we don’t stand up for ourselves. The recent discussion on the SNAP listserv about hiring data for new archivists got me thinking about this. While data is great and useful and essential, it is no substitute for raising our voices. Waiting for the people of Georgia or any other state to recognize the power and necessity of archives is only going to lead to more layoffs, or more jobs going unfilled when others retire.
Since all this Georgia stuff has started, I’ve found lots of great archivists rabblerousing for the profession through Twitter and Tumblr and other sources, and that fills me with hope. But without organization, and lobby days, and talking points, these will continue to be voices in the wilderness, and we will end up reacting to a crisis like Georgia instead of heading it off.
As I said, forgive me if I’m sounding a bit naive here. But I’ve really come to love the archives profession, and I see a place for it in the future, no matter how digital the world becomes. I just want to make sure that we can see that through."
Hmmmmmmmm, I wonder if anyone else is hearing bells? If you replace all the references above from archive / archivists to genealogy / genealogists, do you feel that maybe our community is also  "a normally reticent profession"? We have some cells out in our community that do an excellent job of making their members aware of legislative issues and giving people suggestions on how to take action. The MGC Sentinel is a fantastic example, and there are others. But have we as a community formed ourselves into a well oiled advocacy machine that functions efficiently on a national / international level? Is there anything in our community that fills the "fearless leader" shoes? Are we a team? Do we need to be? Do we want to be?
Judy G. Russell, our beloved Legal Genealogist wrote a post a while back about the SSDI where she encouraged us to get off our duffs. I'm thinking it was very good advice, and maybe all of us as a community should take it.

Our Tree Became A Forest: Am I In The Dark Or Are Genealogy Societies MIA?

Our Tree Became A Forest: Am I In The Dark Or Are Genealogy Societies MIA?

Am I In The Dark Or Are Genealogy Societies MIA? ~ Georgia Archives

I have to be honest with you.... every time I hear of the genealogy community losing access to records, my undies get in a huge bunch. I get riled! I believe in freedom of information. It seems in politics, one of 2 things happen - bills get passed when politicians make deals with each other to vote for each others bills, or the people of this country get fed up, turn into squeaky wheels, and demand their voices be heard. I think each time we are at risk of losing a resource, we need to make a deal to speak up for our whole community, even if that particular resource is one you think you'd never use. Only by putting together large enough numbers and making enough noise, will we succeed in keeping access to records.

By now thousands of us in genealogy land have heard the sad news that the Georgia State Archives will no longer have hours where they are open to the public. In a press release issued September 13th, the reason for the closing was given as a need to abide by a budget cut ordered by the governor of Georgia. There are many reasons why the closing of the archives is wrong, and it's not just because it affects our ability as genealogists to do our work. Those archives are used by citizens to monitor their government, it is used by attorneys, historians, teachers, students, journalists, writers, and movie producers. It boosts the economy of the area it is in.

It has been 11 days since the announcement of the archives closing. I am very impressed by the outpouring of support, and the indignant outcry by people from several vocations. Individuals (not just genealogists) have spread the word, signed the petition, and written letters. It is my hope that RPAC, the group that represents the genealogy community will soon have an action plan post and will submit a letter to the Governor and Secretary of State of Georgia. While genealogists wait for RPAC to have time to do so, the Friends of Georgia Archives and History are doing a great job with updates.

Honestly, it is my hope that HUNDREDS of genealogy societies and lineage organizations will submit letters to the powers that be of Georgia. There are several other organizations who have moved quickly and already have their letters submitted. They are very professional letters from some very impressive organizations. A few that I am aware of are: Society of American Archivists, American Historical Association, National Coalition for History (representing American Association for State & Local History, American Historical Association, Association for Documentary Editing,
Association of Centers for the Study of Congress, Council of State Archivists, History Associates, Inc., National Council on Public History, Organization of American Historians, Southern Historical Association, Society for Military History, Society of American Archivists), American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, and GAIT, GLA, and GLMA. It concerns me that NO genealogy societies are part of this list, and I hope it's because I'm just not aware of them!!!

People from around the world have signed the PETITION to save the archives. If you haven't done so yet, I hope you will add your name to the over 15,000 supporters who have signed it so far. And then, I hope you help spread the word by using e-mail and all your favorite social media sites. If you're a blogger, we'd all love to see what you have to say. The most important thing you can do is send a good old fashioned letter to the Governor and Secretary of State of Georgia. If you need examples of letters to give you ideas on how to write one, Occupy Genealogy has compiled a list of sample letters.

If you'd like to help fight to save the archives click here for a list of actions you can take. Everyone's voice is important, you don't have to be from Georgia!

Please show your support by liking the facebook page Georgians Against Closing the State Archives.

Whether your genealogy is a hobby, a profession, or a tool you use to give back to mankind, please speak up and let your voice be heard. If Georgia succeeds in taking the archives away from the public as an easy fix to a budget problem (even though they have money for a new stadium and to spend oodles of money on a well for a private resort owned by a contributor to the Governor), we can expect that other states will follow suit!!!!!

If you'd like to read more blogs with this theme, check out Tell 'em Tuesday where a list is being compiled of known blogs about this subject. I'm sure you could also use your favorite search engine to locate blogs that didn't get added to the list. This event is hosted by Genealogy Calendar of Events