Friday, April 25, 2008

The impact of cutbacks at the National Archives

Eric Muller at Is That Legal? has run into the effects of cutbacks at the National Archives. Eric was disappointed to find that, in the words of the Archives staff he spoke to, they "really have no one" to replace a senior archivist who was an expert in Justice Department records.

The broader impact of cutbacks at the archives was addressed last spring in a post on this blog: Losing American History at the Archives, linking to a NYT op-ed on the topic. While the National Archives now appears to have restored its regular hours, the enduring problem, which Eric encountered, is the loss of experienced senior staff. This does not just make research more difficult and time-consuming. It will mean that some nuggets of history go unfound by researchers, who rely on assistance from those who know the records the best. To repeat the point I made last spring: Undermining the role of the archivist in the production of American history writing will undermine the way the story of American history itself is told.


Dan Ernst said...

Here, here. Even the experienced and quite dedicated archivists who remain, such as Tab Lewis, appear weighted down with duties that limit how well they can deploy their expertise. Sometimes ten minutes with them in the stacks can turn what would be a month-long, trial-and-error process of pulling boxes twenty-four at a time to a day's work, but their absence would produce a backlog of researchers waiting to get their pull slips approved, so they can't be spared.

Dan Ernst said...

I should add that on several occasions the archivists have nonetheless gone back into the stacks and saved me a great deal of time, but they ought not be in a position where they feel they were neglecting their other duties in doing so.