Bell Submits Testimony on DC Archives

May 6, 2014—SAA President Danna Bell submitted written testimony today to the District of Columbia Council in support of $44 million for a new DC Archives and Records Center – and the critical and ongoing need to budget for professional staff support.  Read her testimony below.


District of Columbia
Committee on Government Operations Budget Hearing
Office of the Secretary / Archives and Records Center
Thursday, May 1, 2014

Written Testimony Submitted By
Danna C. Bell
President, Society of American Archivists

The Society of American Archivists was founded in 1936 and is North America’s oldest and largest national archival association. At present SAA has more than 6,000 members, including a large number who work and live in the District of Columbia.

In December 2003 then-SAA President Timothy Ericson and Vice President Randall Jimerson expressed SAA’s concern about the status of the District of Columbia Archives and Record Center in letters to DC Mayor Anthony Williams. They noted that providing limited support to the Archives resulted in false economies, as District of Columbia government funds were being used to house materials in off-site storage. They noted that reductions in staff would make it difficult—if not impossible—to  locate records needed for government activities and accountability. They noted that citizens of the District would not be able to access government records that they needed to protect their property rights, voting rights, and other rights accorded to them by the District government.  And they noted that historic papers documenting the lives of noted Americans, including Frederick Douglass, Woodrow Wilson, and Francis Scott Key, were being held in substandard conditions without appropriate temperature and humidity controls and therefore were at significant risk.

More than a decade later I was happy to hear that $44 million was allocated in the District of Columbia budget to build a new home for the District of Columbia Archives and Records Center.  This level of funding would make it possible for these important records to be stored in a safe and secure location with appropriate temperature controls and space.  Further, it would allow the DC Archives staff to bring together the records that are stored off-site into a single facility, something that will save the District money and ensure that all of the permanently important records of the activities of the District of Columbia are housed in one easy-to-access location.

But building a new home for the DC Archives and Record Center is just a first step toward ensuring that the District’s records are protected and accessible to our citizens and others who are interested in learning more about the growth of this vibrant community.  The District Council must also ensure that there is adequate funding—both now and in the future—for appropriate staffing and the equipment needed to acquire, protect, preserve, and provide access to these important records.

The level of current staffing available to arrange, describe, and provide access to these important records is totally inadequate. Full-time professional archivists and records managers are needed to review the records, determine their disposition, do preservation work as needed, and answer reference questions from government officials and members of the community.  Work is also needed to ensure that government records created throughout the DC system are handled properly and, when no longer current, are sent to the DC Archives for appropriate disposition.

In addition, staff are needed to begin the important work of protecting, preserving, and providing access to government records that exist only in electronic form.  The DC Archives staff must begin planning how to acquire and preserve electronic records for current and future use. Currently there is no policy in place to preserve these important records and professional staff are needed to begin work on these critical issues.

The Society of American Archivists encourages the Council to maintain the $44 million already in the budget to build a new building for the DC Archives and Records Center, and strongly recommends that adequate funding be provided in future budgets to support the staff of the DC Archives and Records Center in their task of ensuring that the records and the history of the District of Columbia government are protected now and in the future.

Danna C. Bell, President
Society of American Archivists, 2013-2014