Genealogical Forum of Oregon Objects to Seattle National Archives Closure

The following is a copy of a letter sent to the U.S. Office of Management & Budget by Vince Patton, President of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, and republished in this newsletter with the permission of Mr. Patton:

Russell T. Vought
Acting Director
Office of Management & Budget
725 17th Street N
Washington DC 20503

Dear Mr. Vaught,

I am writing on behalf of the Board of Directors and the 1075 members of the Genealogical Forum of Oregon to register our strong objections to the planned closure of Seattle’s National Archives facility.

The decision to close this federal repository of public records was made in complete secrecy, with no input from the public or any other government entities in the region. No local hearings or requests for feedback were held in Washington, nor in Alaska, Idaho, Montana or Oregon.

The Seattle National Archives and Records Center holds records, mostly un-digitized, starting in the 1840’s for the five NW states. These records are vital public documents for anyone researching American history.

No consideration of the importance of maintaining archival resources in the Pacific was made. The National Archives goals do not appear to include keeping local resources close to their origin and where most use will occur. We must ask, “Why not?”

It is vital these record are kept in our region and remain accessible. Transferring records relevant to the Pacific Northwest to a records center in Kansas City, Missouri, effectively bars access to those to whom the records are most relevant.

We urge you to keep Northwest records where they will be most used, and to keep the expert archives staff who specialize in Pacific Northwest records.

Sincerely,

Vince Patton
President
Genealogical Forum of Oregon
gfo.org
president@gfo.org

9 Comments

GFO is right to raise the alarm. NARA serves the American public. Sudden and apparently secretive decisions to move major archives where they will be inaccessible is not the sort of service the American public expects or deserves. The decision, made long ago, that the needs of the public are best served by regional archives, is not to be reversed without careful consideration that must include the public who pays the bills.

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Another point of view could be that the records might be digitized and available to everyone online. Hardly anyone wants to drive into downtown Seattle these days if they don’t have to. It’s become a place I wouldn’t want to visit anymore. Even when it was a better, safer place, parking was sparse up close to the facility or expensive if in a parking garage. In the days when I went there (before 2000), some days were pretty sparse in patronage, for many good reasons. Important records need to come online and be available to almost everyone who wants them from the security of their own homes and electronic devices.

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    The National Archives is not downtown. It is located in northeast Seattle. There is no problem with parking. An abundant amount of free parking is available. NARA Seattle holds 58,000 cubic feet of records. Records are being digitized but NARA has not been given the funds or staff to do this overwhelming job. Only a small percentage of all historic and records are online. It is a goal but far from reality at this point.

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    The Pacific NW Archives are not in downtown Seattle. It is located in a very safe neighborhood, easy to get to by car or public transportation, and there is plenty of parking. There are many documents, photographs, articles, and other types of holdings in the PNW Archives that can not be digitized. What can be digitized will be useless unless the documents are indexed – an index only shows you what records/items there are, not what information they contain.
    There are additional benefits of doing the research in person at the Archives. One can find information on pages in front of or behind what you are looking at or elsewhere in the same volume or box. Another benefit is that one can find context by doing research in person.
    Then there is the cost of digitizing all the material in the archives – that takes money for different types of scanners, money for personnel to do the scanning, and where will that money come from?
    It certainly makes more sense to keep the Archives and keep on doing the digitizing that is happening at a snail’s pace, due to the sheer volume of what can be and needs to be digitized.
    But everyone, show the Office of Management and Budget that the Archives are used and make it a point to visit the Archives in person.
    Please write, email, and call your State Senators and Representatives. Write to Russell T. Vought, Acting Director, Office of Management & Budget, 725 17th St. North, Washington, D.C. 20503 and let him know the Archives building and its holdings and its wonderful archivists need to stay in its present location.

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I find the secrecy appalling. I have used the Archives often and agree with Carol that the info should be digitized. Having been “in the back rooms” and seen the HUGE amount of records, it will take years and lots of money to do so. How much would it cost to move all those records elsewhere? I vote to keep the Archives open till funding for digitizing is available.

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Digitizing takes quite a while to accomplish. Get the records digitized then move the archives. Perhaps moving them to the center of the country is being done to keep them safe from earthquakes or tsunamis?

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    I think the building has been retrofitted for earthquakes and there’s no tsunamis that could hit it – this building is not located near the Pacific Ocean….

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The fact that, “The decision to close this federal repository of public records was made in complete secrecy, with no input from the public or any other government entities in the region,” should not come as a surprise to anyone paying attention.

I am glad that the GFO has sent out an alarm so the public can become aware of what the government is doing behind our backs.

This is a sad time in America.

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It doesn’t make sense to move all of the records, undigitized or not, to Kansas City, MO. There are many people, not just genealogist, who access the Seattle Archives. It takes me about 6 hours to drive up there from SW Oregon. I can’t afford the flight to KC, as I cannot afford lodging and meals involved. Why take Pacific Northwest records away from the Pacific Northwest? And whose idea was it in the first place?

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