Mohamed Haian Abdirahman 2016-11-16 13:53:47
When Georgia’s secretary of state announced in 2012 that the archives would be downsized to a staff of three, with access to material strictly limited by appointment, it stood in sharp contrast to the archives of the 1980s, run with full hours by a staff of more than 120. The years leading up to the secretary’s decision brought frequent budget cuts to the archives, yet archivists used these challenges to build a far-reaching advocacy network that prepared them for the day to keep their archives open. The Work of Many A number of parties were involved in advocating for the archives, including the Coalition to Save the Georgia Archives, Society of Georgia Archivists (SGA), Society of American Archivists (SAA), and the Council of State Archivists (CoSA). For years, archives staff had coordinated an annual Georgia Charter Day, bringing archival material to the legislature and allowing policy makers to become familiar with archivists. Members of SGA started an annual Archives Month celebration, kicked off with the signing of a proclamation by the governor. During this long-standing event, members of the Coalition presented Governor Nathan Deal with letters of support for the archives, written by over 100 historical organizations, while the president of SGA gave him a printout of an online petition with more than 17,000 signatures. In addition, SGA met with a state senator for recommendations on how to secure stable funding for the archives. Following the secretary’s announcement, SGA worked with the advocacy movement to share these recommendations and provide aid where they could. Seeking Outside Advice Both SAA and CoSA were sensitive to the concern of outside organizations forcing an agenda onto Georgia state policy. Rather than have a strong “on the ground” presence, SAA and CoSA served in an advisory role, helping to build the advocacy infrastructure needed for a streamlined campaign. The Friends of the Georgia Archives hired an experienced lobbyist to provide direct support for campaign matters. Early on, the lobbyist advised archivists to not file suit against the secretary’s office. Doing so would result in state officials being barred from communicating with the archives campaign, due to gag protocols resulting from disputes. Archivists were also advised to develop a unified campaign message to use for district-based operations, asking Georgia residents to contact their representative in support of the archives. Much of these advocacy recommendations were compiled by the Friends group and are now available online through SAA’s Issues and Advocacy Roundtable blog at https://issuesandadvocacy.wordpress.com/advocacy-toolkit/. Tapping into local advocates was not something the archives could have done overnight. The network of support across the state was developed over years of data gathering and relationship building. When the archives coordinated a picket line, a diverse group of genealogists, historians, and public officials came out in support, and when the governor signed the Archives Month proclamation, over 100 supporters attended the ceremony. Through steady public outreach, the archives were prepared to demonstrate to public officials why Georgia archives matter. Thriving Once More After about six months of advocacy and negotiations with the governor, secretary of state, and the legislature, the archives were transferred from the oversight of the secretary of state’s office to the governor-appointed Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia (USG). USG’s board additionally oversees the Georgia Public Library System, and the administration integration of the archives has gone well. Archives staff has increased to twenty-eight members, and full hours have been reinstated. The campaign’s success serves as a model for the imperative that archivists have to incorporate advocacy into their institutional mission. Data captured on archives use, ranging from in-person visits to academic citations, should be readily available in times of need. Steps to promote advocacy within the workplace can include a section on employee performance reviews measuring outreach efforts, such as writing blogs about collections or performing community-based archives trainings. Advocacy is an imperative, and we should promote advocacy work and training in everything we do. The institutional culture of forward-thinking advocacy is what saved the Georgia Archives, and its long-established practices will continue to demonstrate why Georgia archives change lives.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.