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July 8, 2010

On PAHR with Expanded Federal Support to Regional, State Archives

** A special Guest Post from Michele DeLia**

In spring 2009, US Congressmen Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and John McHugh (R-NY) introduced a bill that would grant a total of $50 million per year for five years to be distributed among every state, earmarked for local and regional archives and libraries that hold valuable historical material related to the cultural heritage and national identity of the United States.

Right now, that bill, Preserving the American Historical Record (the PAHR Act), is under review in the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (S. 3227) and the House Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives (H.R. 2256). Backed by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Carl Levin (D-MI), the PAHR Act has the bipartisan co-sponsorship of 7 US Senators and 59 House Representatives. Additionally, the Society of American Archivists, Council of State Archivists, and the National Association of Government Affairs have partnered in support, and organizations as diverse as the National Genealogical Society, National Coalition for History, American Association for State and Local History, American Library Association, Heritage Preservation, and National Association of Secretaries of State, to name a few, have endorsed the PAHR Act.

In its current form, the PAHR Act would authorize the Archivist of the United States of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to administer monies to states via a competitive formula-based grant program. Each state would receive an equal base amount; the remainder of the full grant award would be calculated based on a population/area formula. On top of this, each state would be required to match 50% of the total funds granted. Over a 5 fiscal-year plan, each State Archives (or other state-level organization designated by the Archivist of the United States) would work with the State Historical Records Advisory Board to manage the local grant program. On a yearly basis, the selected organizations would apply for re-grants and submit documentation on their progress and measured outcomes.

As summarized by the National History Coalition, the funding program has been designed to support the following initiatives through preservation and access to historical records:

• Creation of a wide variety of access tools, including archival finding aids, documentary editions, indexes, and images of key records online.

• Preservation actions to protect original historical records from harm, prolong their lifespan, and preserve them for public use through conservation and creation of avenues for access, including digitization projects, electronic records initiatives, and disaster preparedness and recovery.

• Initiatives to use historical records in new and creative ways to convey the importance of state, territorial, and community history, including the development of teaching materials for K-12 and college students, active participation in National History Day, and support for life-long learning opportunities.

• Programs to provide education and training to archivists and others who care for historical records, ensuring that they have the necessary knowledge and skills to fulfill their important responsibilities.

The PAHR Act would not only provide opportunities for local organizations to carry out diverse new projects of national significance, but would also relieve much of the burden from the current federal grant program, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), also called the “funding arm” of the NARA. The NHPRC, the only private/public grant-making body with the primary mission to fund projects that preserve the US historical record, and since 1964 has awarded grants for a wide range of US preservation activities at the federal, non-federal, nonprofit, state, and local levels. However, the NHPRC is not capable of reaching all archival and records-keeping organizations or funding all necessary projects due to the constraints of their allocated budget and parameters of what activities the granted monies may support. For example, its proscribed guidelines do not extend funds towards conserving archaeological artifacts, museum objects, or works of art — all of which may represent valuable information about our nation’s history. Nor does the NHPRC fund cataloging or preservation efforts of books or other library materials, and as a government institution it is unable to fund preservation of privately owned materials or those held in institutions where assets are subject to “withdrawal upon demand for reasons other than those required by law”.

At the regional or local level it is difficult to find the resources and manpower to properly care for the increasing number of materials that exist on a growing number of (often obsolete) formats. Additionally, the existence of these regional collections is not widely known to the public, which results in a lower level of access and therefore a lower level of regional funding — an issue identified by the Council on Library and Information Resources as the Hidden Collection problem. The strain on one organization to undertake the many faceted projects throughout the United States it simply too great. The NHPRC is currently under review for an increase in their granting authorization level. This would be the first increase in the amount available in almost 20 years. PAHR is a necessary supplement to the NHPRC activities no matter what, but if the authorization increase is not approved by Congress the need for PAHR to address the duty of non-governmental local organizations to preserve and share their records with the general population is even greater. Ultimately, PAHR will contribute to a stronger historical US cultural record about our nation from its inception forward.

On July 1, the House Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives cleared H.R.1556 (the bill to reauthorize NHPRC’s available funds from $10 million to $20 million through FY 2014) for review by the full House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Many supporters insist NHPRC needs to increase its funding to meet the demand of maintaining electronic records, and to strengthen best practices at all archival levels via federal/state partnerships. On June 21, the Senate Governmental Affairs and Homeland Security Committee issued a committee report (S. Rep. 111-213) on its version of the NHPRC’s bill (S. 2872), currently on the Senate floor calendar, however it authorized NHPRC at only $10 million.

It is important that this version of H.R.1556 is approved, reaches a full vote before the House and passes, because the increased funds will relieve and enable the NHPRC to fund more US preservation initiatives, and empower organizations to form state/federal partnerships at the local level to build upon and implement best archival practices and standards in their communities. If the PAHR Act is also approved, there would be a total of $60-70 million each year dedicated to the preservation of our nation’s identity, which in part will strengthen the overall security of our country from privacy breaches over time. Contacting your congressmen with respect to each of these bills is a great way to make an impact in passing the PAHR Act.

Despite the high level of sponsorship and endorsement the PAHR Act has built up, it still has a tough row to hoe in getting approved by Congress — let alone just getting to the point of an up-or-down vote. Even in boom times spending on the arts is not extremely popular, and we archivists have not always been able to articulate what we do in a way that incentivizes the provision of adequate levels of monetary support. With the explosion of electronic records, the reliance on the Internet as a primary source for information, and the daily development of new technologies, the greater our need for more trained information specialists and resources to preserve our history. The funding provided through the PAHR Act and NHPRC can save and share with the public valuable records that have been put aside, ignored, or forgotten.

This is where you, fellow archivists, professional small collections managers, librarians, students, history buffs, Americans, or American enthusiasts come in. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) has done a great job on their site (http://www.archivists.org/pahr/) of providing a comprehensive list of resources, letter templates, fact sheets, contacts, etc., as a guideline to help support the bill. Here is an abbreviated action plan to show how you can most easily and efficiently help pass these bills:

Little Action Plan (PAHR LAP)

1. Call your senators and representatives at their Washington offices (preferred) or visit their regional offices. Personal contact such as phone calls get a better response than email.

2. Ask to speak with the Legislative Director (or Regional Director).

3. Make a strong case for why the PAHR Act will save and create new jobs, strengthen the nation’s security, and ease the burden on NHPRC’s grant program.

4. Request that your Senator and/or Representative co-sponsor the bill by contacting the offices of the main Sponsors:

(Senators)
Bryan Hickman (Sen. Hatch)
202-224-5251, Bryan_Hickman@judiciary-rep.senate.gov

Harold Chase (Sen. Levin)
202-224-6221, Harold_Chase@levin.senate.gov

(Representatives)
Mike Iger (Rep. Hinchey)
202-225-6335, michael.iger@mail.house.gov

Jason Miller (Rep. McHugh)
202-225-4611, jason.miller@mail.house.gov

5.Go to opencongress.org and compose a follow-up letter online.

6.Let other people know about this by emailing and posting to Facebook and Twitter.

Other Resources:
Society of American Archivists on PAHR
Senate on Homeland Security and Government Affairs
House Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives
State Historical Records Advisory Boards (Google List)

— Michele DeLia

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