Fallout continues from the 2016 legislature’s move of the Arkansas History Commission, and neutering of the agency’s governing commission, to the Stacy Hurst-led Department of Arkansas Heritage.
The change met some resistance from Democrats at the legislative session, but they were outvoted.
Most involved tried to put a good face on the change. Heritage, which oversees several museums, didn’t seem an unnatural fit. Ruth Hawkins, then chair of the History Commission, said, for example, that the move from Parks to Heritage made sense. But, according to an article at the time in the Democrat-Gazette:
For the move to be successful, it will require adequate space for the archives, as well as as room for growth of the archives and “the right temperature and humidity controls” for paper documents, Hawkins said.
Leslie Peacock reported in September on the Heritage Department’s move into a new building that included no space for archives and the uncertain future of the unit, now housed in a building on the Capitol mall. That article also noted some agency unhappiness related to staff cuts.
Which brings us to today. The Friends of the Arkansas State Archives has sent a letter questioning the future of the archives, both as to future protection of documents and adequate space in a new location. We’ll be seeking further comment on the issue, but here’s that letter:
The Friends of the Arkansas State Archives want all Arkansans to know that plans are afoot that will be detrimental to our State Archives, formerly known as the Arkansas History Commission. The name change came with the transfer of the Archives from the Parks Department where it had enjoyed a long partnership advantageous to both agencies. The Archives is now part of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.?
The Archives has been notified that it must vacate its current quarters within two years. Those quarters were built especially for an Archive with a temperature controlled fireproof vault, a microfilm vault, extra storage area, a conservation lab, office space, and room for processing documents and collections. No funding for the required move has been discussed nor is there any mention of building new quarters. There has been talk of moving our precious historical documents and artifacts into a totally inappropriate warehouse. The documentary history of our state is unappreciated and at serious risk.?
Funding for the Archives has been flat for some time and now there is talk of eliminating the two regional archives that serve northeast and southwest Arkansas. A position is frozen at each of the satellite archives, NEARA in Powhatan and SARA at Washington, leaving those wonderful regional archives with only one employee each. You can imagine that this situation does not lend itself to the security or the function of those archives. We are asking the Governor to unfreeze those positions so the two regional archives can resume serving their patrons with security and full functionality.?
Now is the time for all of us who are interested in the history of our state, the preservation of our historic documents, and the further growth and progress of our State Archives to notify our legislators and the Governor of our feelings. Please step up and help us restore the two frozen positions to enable our regional archives to survive and succeed.
Talk to your friends and neighbors, co-workers and colleagues. Call, write, or email the Governor and the legislators.
If you wish to join Friends of the Arkansas State Archives, or renew your membership, please send $10 for Basic, $25 for Sustaining, or $200 for Life membership to Friends of the Arkansas State Archives, P.O. Box 250916, Little Rock, AR 72225.
Susan Gardner Boyle
President, Friends of the Arkansas State Archives
IRONIC UPDATE: Just last week, the Heritage Department sent a letter to all state agencies about “workshops” from February through November this year to comply with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s directive that all agencies begin systematically preserving historical documents for transfer to the archives. He said last February only 13 percent of agencies were working with the archives. Not enough, he said.
The following passage from the governor’s directive seems particularly ironic in light of concerns that the Heritage Department may lack proper storage for existing historical documents, never mind tons of new ones.
I have not received a response to multiple requests for comment from the Heritage Department about the archives concerns.
UPDATE II: I received this response this afternoon from Melissa Whitefield, a spokesman for the Department of Arkansas Heritage:
I have checked with both Stacy and Lisa and there is no deadline for the Archives to move out of its current location. A new space has been suggested for some time and the Governor has asked us to explore possibilities, but there are no plans right now of where that would be. And when a move comes it will not be to a warehouse, but to a proper archival storage facility. DAH is well aware of the requirements for archival storage. Our museum storage at the DAH Collection Management Facility is maintained with controlled security and environmental concerns (humidity, light, etc.). Temperature and humidity date loggers are used in each storage space to ensure accurate daily measurement of environmental factors. This is a requirement of the Association of American Museums and something that they review in their re-accreditation process every 10 years. Also, there are no plans to close the archives satellite facilities . In fact, we have just signed an agreement with Parks & Tourism to continue to keep SARA and NEARA in their current locations for the next five years.
As for the frozen regional jobs:
Positions are going through the freeze process of justification of why they should be filled, then OPM tells us when they can be advertised and filled. None have been eliminated.