Friday, February 3, 2012

Historical Archives and Cultural Centers Suspending Operations

Although it has long been reported that archives and cultural centers across the U.S. are cutting staff and reducing or even eliminating their hours of operation due to the economic realities of the recession, I have recently experienced the affects directly. I was attempting to research the provision of legal aid during the turn-of-the century at New Jersey’s Whittier settlement house and learned that the collection manager of the New Jersey Historical Society is on permanent furlough. Even more disturbing, the Chicago Jewish Archives at the Spertus Institute closed its archive three years ago. As far as I know, it is the only archive that possesses significant documents relating to Minnie Low, often called the Jewish Jane Addams. For many years, Low supervised Chicago’s Bureau of Personal Service which provided both social work and legal aid to poor Chicago Jews. Not being able to access these documents is a tremendous setback in writing about the history of legal aid.  I have been informed that the Spertus Institute plans to reopen its Jewish archives, but there is no definite timeline.   For the time being, rich archival material will be left unseen and researchers will be forced to look elsewhere or make special arrangements to see the collections.  Aside from archives departments, important centers of social reform are also closing its doors.  The storied Jane Addams Hull House Association in Chicago, which relies heavily on state funding, recently closed down because of economic hardships. That Chicago will no longer have this extraordinary institution is shocking.  Aside from its important history, Hull House provided services that included programs for abused and neglected children who were wards of the Chicago courts.