This is what happens when you cut a library’s budget

As I talked about in my letter to the Governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and the Secretary of Education, Dietra Trent, the Library of Virginia has been forced to make massive and devastating budget cuts, which account for 12% of their total staff being laid off. The other shoe has now dropped: the Library will now only be open four days a week, Tuesday through Friday.

Critically, closing the Library on Saturday will be the most painful for the general public, since that is the day that people who work are able to get there and do research. The only statement that the Library made, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, was

“Suspending our Saturday hours and closing our reading rooms on Mondays is heartbreaking for us, but is necessary,” Sandra G. Treadway, Librarian of Virginia, said in a statement issued Tuesday morning.

Other services that will be cut include “training for records officers as well as longer wait times to fill orders for digital images and to make new collections available.”

Digitization. Processing. Reference. Training. All aspects of the Library of Virginia’s services are being affected and, make no mistake, it is crushing blow.

My letter to Terry McAuliffe and Dietra Trent about the importance of the Library of Virginia

Below is a letter that I wrote to Governor Terry McAuliffe and Secretary of Education Dietra Trent about the proposed layoffs at the Library of Virginia. 26 state employees have to be laid off state-wide, and out of that number 15 are currently proposed to come from the Library of Virginia. It is unfair, inequitable, and devastating to an agency that has born more that its share of layoffs going back to 2002.

I urge you to contact the Governor and the Secretary using the form on their website and tell them why you support the Library of Virginia and why these cuts are completely unfair.

Dear Governor McAuliffe and Secretary Trent,

I strongly urge you to reconsider the layoffs of 15 people from the Library of Virginia out of a statewide layoff total of 26. The first issues is the issue of fairness. No one wants layoffs to come from their agency, but the fact that the Library of Virginia is bearing over half of the layoffs for their entire state government simply isn’t fair. Spreading them across the Executive Branch helps minimize the impact to any one agency; if things are allowed to stand as they are, the programs and services of the Library will be gutted.

But secondly, more importantly, is a message that you may not have heard much, but that is very, very true: the Library is a critical and key part of state government and our Commonwealth and needs to be protected and grown. The Library performs critical services for the Commonwealth, such as records management, the preservation of Virginia’s historical record, and educating students and the public about the importance of primary sources, among many other things.

The records retention schedules created by the records analysis team and the records collected, preserved, and made available by the archivists at the Library of Virginia are the cornerstone of open and transparent government here in the Commonwealth. The records at the Library have been used in court cases, by members of the media, by citizens of the Commonwealth, and by members of your own administration to review the day-to-day actions of the government. The Library is also one of the first in the country to publish, en masse, the emails of a gubernatorial administration with the emails of Tim Kaine now available online. In a day where emails are constantly in the news, this project shows what an archive can do. All of this is threatened by these potential layoffs.

This last point, about the emails of Governor Tim Kaine, also illuminates a larger point. With the records of state and local government becoming primarily digital, rather than paper, the human and resource cost for appropriate records retention, long-term archival storage, and processes to make these documents available just like paper records is skyrocketing. We need more records managers and archivists to deal with this new future, not less, and the Library needs more resources to make sure that there isn’t a massive gap in the historical record because we aren’t able to deal with digital archives.

The Library also does dozens of educational programs every year, ranging from teaching school-aged children about the importance of primary sources, to genealogy workshops to Virginia residents of all ages, to book talks given by important authors from Virginia and beyond. These include events requested by members of the General Assembly during the legislative session, which is a perk that the members get to give their constituents who are able to come to Richmond. This is an important educational experience for Virginians, both young and old, to learn about primary sources.

If these cuts are allowed to take place in the way they are currently constituted, you will be doing irreparable harm to the historical record of Virginia, the openness of government in Virginia, and the education of the citizens of Virginia. I urge you to spare the Library of Virginia, which has already been hit with devastating layoffs in every round since 2002, and spread these layoffs more equitably across state government agencies. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Benjamin Bromley

The Library of Virginia now has emails from Tim Kaine’s administration available online!

Since being hired by the Library of Virginia just over a year ago, a part of my job has been to process emails from the administration of Governor Tim Kaine, who was Governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010. And last week, the first fruits of our labors were realized, with the release of over 66000 emails from Tim Kaine and his executive office. I was only a very small part of this overall effort, but I am proud to be a part of an organization that takes this kind of commitment to making digital public records accessible. You can find the whole collection on our Virginia Memory site; have a look!