Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why researchers matter - redux.

Here is another reason why researchers matter.

Ever traveled to a library, archives or records center just to find out it is closed because of an emergency situation, a power-outage or some other logistical problem?  It has happened to every newbie researcher, and probably to many of the more experienced ones.  It is part of the risk involved in conducting on-site of research.

However, what if the place was closed because of a lack of funds?  This is occurring more often and in the case of Minnesota, it is not just one city or county, it is the entire state and all of its publicly funded research facilities.  This could easily happen to the research institution that you use most often.  It could happen because the state runs out of funds.  It could also happen if legislatures fail to adequately fund these institutions in the first place.

So, how do researchers matter in this case?  Well, it seems rather obvious = get involved! Let your legislators know, at the state and Congressional levels, that your institution matters to you and it must be adequately funded.  Tell them how and why you use it and how it impacts you, your family and your clients or whomever is the recipient of the data or information you discovered while researching.  It actually works.  I have seen it in action, all it takes is some time and a great deal of polite, patient persistence.

At my favorite research facility, the National Archives, researchers have been involved in many ways to help.  The most important contribution was several years ago after the archives was closed because of a water damage after a flood in the basement of the building.  It seemed that Congress just wouldn't give NARA adequate funding to make the repairs and stay open at the same time, or ever compensate them for any of the repairs retroactively.  The place was scheduled to be closed for at least four weeks and after re-opening was to have more limited hours than before.  NARA only needed $36-million, but (former) Archivist of the US Weinstein wasn't persuasive enough to convince Congress.

Realizing what needed to be done, the researchers formed a vigilante-committee of sorts, and charted a course of action.  The group lobbied congress, and had meetings with members of the appropriations committee(s).  After a short time, the researchers were able to get the ball rolling and believe it or not, Congress gave NARA the necessary funds to make the repairs, get the doors open and resume normal hours of operation.

I believe that researchers matter, not just as users of the institutions, but as players in the game.  If you want that place to remain open, you MUST be involved.  More interested parties will swoop in and take control, or the collection may even be auctioned off, or disposed of.  At that point, it is often too late to act, so do something now.

Should we just sell our entire cultural heritage to a for-profit corporation like or do we keep it alive locally at institutions that can be physically visited, where real research can be conducted using real items, documents and ephemera?

1 comment:

  1. I know you may never speak to me ever again after saying this, but I believe that corporations like can be good for smaller institutions. Smaller institutions do not, in general, have alot of records. Having a subscription to can be very useful to these institutions because it gives them ton of records within the space of a computer terminal. We need to remember that not everyone has the opportunity to travel to Washington DC to view the records that will eventually end up on, especially if they only want to do a small amount of research. In this case, can be very useful to institutions that pay for access. I've seen institutions charge upwards of 25 cents per page for copies and researchers who are willing to pay these fees. And since it is doubtful that will ever come to every little genealogical library and archive in the country to scan their closet of records, will probably never be much of a threat to most small institutions.
    As far as help from the community is concerned, I believe that the main issue is relevance. Institutions must stay relevant to the community it serves or funding will disappear. A state government financial crisis may be out of the control of the institutions it funds. As a crisis looms, locals should support their institutions. But many do not realize this because they do not understand why museums and archives are important. Staying relevant is one of the primary functions of institutions. I have seen a museum in a village with a population of 100 get some sort of support from all 100 villagers because the museum remained relevant to their community. No institution can sit back and wait for community support without explaining why the community's heritage is so important to preserve in the first place. Support is always necessary, and it has to be from both inside and outside of the institution.