On Monday, the National Archive and Records Administration, also known as NARA, announced that it would be closing its facility in Anchorage and shipping all of the records housed there to Seattle.
The decision caused quite a stir across the state and was devastating news to Anjuli Grantham, the curator of collections at the Baranov Museum.
“And it’s just like the loss of our cultural heritage. It’s inexcusable.”
The archive administration is charged with caring for federal records in the United States and Grantham said those records are especially important here in Alaska.
“This is the Bureau of Indian Affairs records, this is Parks Service records, all of Fish and Wildlife Service really the U.S. Coast Guard – all of the federal entities that exist in Alaska and really impact our day-to-day life. The records are housed at this Anchorage facility and they’re open to the public. So any person can go in there and request these records.”
But now all of Alaska’s federal historical records, more than 12,000 cubic feet of material, will be housed in Seattle, making them extremely difficult for Alaskans to access. Grantham said the news is obviously a huge blow to historians, but should really be concerning the general public, too.
“Anyone who is trying to access critical family information, I mean these are BIA records talking about who belongs to which tribe. These are census records. These are records from the Fish and Wildlife Service showing early salmon and halibut surveys. I mean, this stuff is really instrumental to what we do in Alaska on a day to day basis.”
A press release from NARA cited cost savings as the reason for the Anchorage facility’s closure. The closure, combined with consolidation facilities in Texas and Pennsylvania, is estimated to save the federal government around $1.5 million a year. But Grantham said the loss to communities will be far greater.
“This is information that cities and boroughs are frequently consulting. We say they are historic, but a lot of this information is quite new, it’s just decades old and they’re still impacting things that are taking place today.”
Grantham said she and fellow historians around the state have been getting in touch with Alaska’s congressional delegation to try and keep those records in state.
A press release from Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office said Murkowski recently wrote a letter to the archivist of the United States and proposed some cost saving alternatives to closing the facility in Anchorage. She suggested selling different undeveloped NARA-owned property in Anchorage and using the proceeds to digitize the records, or develop an agreement with an Alaskan agency that could house and maintain the documents.
According to the press release from NARA, there are two employees that currently work at the facility in Anchorage and they will be offered positions at other NARA facilities with paid relocation fees.