Two Years is Too Long: Reopen National Archives Research Rooms

Two Years is Too Long: Reopen National Archives Research Rooms

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Jessica Taylor started this petition to Current Archivist and Incoming Archivist of the United States and

U.S. citizens including veterans, scientists, historians, genealogists, filmmakers, journalists, educators, and students depend on physical access to the records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for education, benefits, genealogical information, and historical documentation. Most of our nation’s records are not digitized and are accessible only through NARA’s in-person research rooms. Each research room, located in branches throughout the country, holds unique, original documents and media that are only available in person in that facility.

In March 2020, when Covid-19 hit the U.S. in earnest and NARA’s research rooms were closed across the country, we were understanding about the need to keep NARA employees safe, so we waited for public access to these important records to be reinstated - putting our projects, clients, careers, and other needs aside. When other archives and libraries nationwide put safety measures in place and successfully reopened, we patiently waited for NARA to do the same. However, most of NARA’s regional research facilities have remained closed to the public since March 2020. In particular, the two-year closure of the St. Louis public research room has prevented veterans and their families from accessing the benefits they need, with the massive backlog in St. Louis growing larger each day.

There was a brief, minimal opening at two of the fourteen NARA research facilities (operating at about 10% of pre-Covid capacity) in late 2021, and we are grateful that that window was opened. During this brief reopening, researchers were required to be fully vaccinated or present a negative Covid test. Masks were required, and the researchers were kept socially distant. All of these regulations were being followed, but doors were still closed again after only a couple weeks. 

Today, every research room across the country is closed again (this can be verified by visiting each facility web page via the list at https://www.archives.gov/locations). If reopening status is dependent on Covid rates, these closures could potentially be indefinite. We need National Archives leaders to create a sustainable plan that can keep their doors open to the public. We understand the need for safety, but are frustrated that the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. - located in the same building as the NARA research room - remains open, while the critical needs of citizens are ignored with the research room shut once again. This pattern is repeated across the country, where archive-related museums are open but research rooms are closed. 

As citizens we find these harmful restrictions to public access unacceptable. By March 2022, please reopen all of NARA's research rooms - and when possible, reopen each of them to full capacity to match the pre-pandemic level of access and basic services that citizens enjoyed prior to March 2020.

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At 7,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get a reaction from the decision maker!