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Historians gain some ground in fight to keep records in Alaska

Efforts under way to keep one quarter of records in state

Posted: April 4, 2014 - 12:09am

Alaska’s archivists and historians are gaining ground in a fight to keep federal records in the state, but the Anchorage office of the National Archives and Records Administration is still set to close by the end of the year.

On Wednesday, Alaska State Library director Linda Thibodeau told the Alaska Historical Commission that negotiations are under way to keep roughly one quarter of the archive’s 12,000 boxes of records.

The remaining 9,000 boxes, which contain documents on topics as varied as village schools and the U.S. Coast Guard, are scheduled to move to the National Archives office in Seattle.

“We are going to be — that’s a sure thing — taking in 1,000 boxes of Alaska Railroad records,” Thibodeau told the commission.

Negotiations are under way for 2,000 boxes of territorial court records to also be transferred to the state archives in Juneau.

On March 11, the federal archives agency declared it will close its Anchorage archives office as well as others in Philadelphia and Fort Worth, Tex. The closures will save about $1.3 million per year, archives officials said.

The archives agency is facing financial pressure and has proposed a budget of $377 million — $10 million less than this year.

State historian Jo Antonson is among the Alaskans who have rallied in an attempt to keep the archives open. She remembers the years before the archives office opened in 1990. Back then, records were sometimes kept in primitive sheds exposed to the elements.

Sen. Ted Stevens successfully funded the archives’ construction.

“It’s been an interesting experience to go through something I see as a step backward,” said state historian Jo Antonson at Wednesday’s meeting. “They’re clearly doing this because Ted Stevens isn’t there.”

Proponents of keeping the archives open include Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. Young has proposed the sale of 9 acres owned by the archives in midtown Anchorage as a way to get money to keep the archives open.

That attempt is unlikely to succeed, however, as proceeds from federal land sales must first go through the General Services Administration and can’t go directly to the archives without additional legislation.

“I think it probably is hopeless,” said professor Terrence Cole of the University of Alaska and a member of the historical commission.

Regardless of the outcome, Antonson said the situation has been incredibly frustrating.

“After all we’ve heard about transparency in government, it just raises my blood pressure,” she said.

The historical commission was scheduled to conclude its spring meeting in Juneau with a vote on a resolution condemning the Anchorage archives move.

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Art Petersen
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Art Petersen 04/04/14 - 08:32 am
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Digitize the records

Contract with an entity like Google books to digitize the archive contents and make them available online. And make the new SLAM a federal depository for new records, which could be digitized in an on-going program. Contributions on a regular basis to a program like that might be easy to solicit. Worth looking into?

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