Bad News from Southern Oregon

The Southern Oregon Historical Society tries to preserve own future: Historical Society president says most operations will be closed for six months, vows to reorganize and reopen

“A worsening financial crisis at the Southern Oregon Historical Society will require shutting down its Jacksonville museums for six months and laying off most of its staff to restructure an organization that is the guardian of local history. ‘We will close most of the operations,’ said Terrie Martin, president of the SOHS board. On Sept. 7, the museums as well as the research library in Medford will be shut down, historical society officials said Thursday.” To read more, check out the Mail Tribune article from August 14th.

Ironically, I have been corresponding with a man who is interested in donating his research notes from a great genealogy project to an archives or historical society in Oregon. He’s frustrated and feels like the value his work isn’t being recognized. It’s hard not to understand, especially when the work he has done is the sort of thing archivists and historians love. And I’m sure I can speak for most of the archivists and historians I know when I say that we’re in business because there are people who save things, people who research things, and people who produce books/collections.

Unfortunately, inquiries about a donation come at a time when the historical societies are cutting and closing. As the current President of the NW Archivists, the professional association of archivists in WA, OR, ID, MT, and AL, my entire term has been spent thinking about the larger implications of massive lay-offs or the closing of cultural institutions…

What does this all mean for donors? In many cases, it means that repositories just can’t accept anything new. And it’s not just for the space/staffing/preservation/access issues you might immediately think of – ethically, we have a code that says that we are committed to preserving and providing access to the historical record. Again, what does this mean for donors? It means that it’s ethically “wrong” for us to accept anything that we know we can’t preserve or provide access to. It means we can’t take in materials that we know will sit indefinitely in a box on a shelf with little more than the report that was produced when the items showed up.

So please, remember the value of archives, support your local museums and historical societies, and keep collecting — fingers crossed that we come out of this budget crunch and can start chugging away again!

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