Iowa History at Risk

I saw this same article circulating on Twitter as well. It reminded me that the Illinois State Museum was having troubles a couple months ago, too. I hunted around and found an update in which it looks like things have gotten worse. I'm sure that situation was pretty political to start with, but the latest news from a month seems especially bad. 

Are other state historical agencies also facing troubles in the Midwest? From these two examples, I won't conclude something region-wide is happening, but I'm curious.

Significantly for the Iowa folks, the belief that new buildings or massive remodeling of old building would save their institutions was all the craze in the 1990's and 2000's among cultural institutions. Museums, historical societies, libraries went on a building spree across the US. Those institutions typically saw a surge in ticket sales for a couple years after the new sites opened, then sales went back to previous (and falling) levels. Most of them are now saddled with massive debt, buildings they can't afford to keep up, and no significant increase in tickets or interest. 




The latest with the Illinois State Museum is indeed grim. There is some hope of reopening with the new budget entirely dependent upon ticket sales (the ISM has never before charged admission). Although most of the staff is unionized and still employed (behind locked doors) because of ongoing litigation, many key curators, scientists, and administrators have retired or were not protected and are gone. Here is some further information about the Illinois State Museum:

You needn't leave Springfield to locate the other crisis impacting a historical institution in Illinois. The following article is dated but sums up current staffing problems. Since this article was written the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum director resigned and the director of the state agency in charge of the museum has been replaced by the governor. The library remains without a director and several department head posts unfilled.

Christopher A. Schnell
PhD candidate, U.S. History
Saint Louis University

May I ask about cutbacks at university and other archival sites?


I hope someone with first hand or even second hand knowledge chimes in. I only know what is reported regarding higher ed funding in Illinois. Here goes:

Illinois does not have a budget for the current fiscal year and we are currently eight months into FY2016. State universities have received no money from the state in that time. There has been a lot of pressure to get something done lately, see:

As you can see there isn't a lot of hope. The most severe impact is being felt at the smaller state schools who have an a greater portion of their funding coming from direct state revenue (as opposed to from tuition, fees, endowments). For instance Chicago State University is struggling to pay employees through the end of the semester. I don't think the governor can afford politically to go another year without a budget, but who knows. The gist is that the closer we get to an impasse continuing into FY2017 the smaller the chance there will be any state money for FY2016 in higher ed. MAP grants are also a huge problem, these are needs based grants and their loss will push many students out. Anecdotally I've heard enrollments are down at community colleges (but that might be related to the improving economy).

Let me share what little I know about Ohio, specifically libraries and archives where I have done research.

The Ohio Historical Society, a private and partly state supported institution, has been finally squeezed for some time. It now is called the Ohio History Connection. The hours of the Library/Archives is now only Wednesday-Saturday, 10-5. I live in the college town of Oxford and taught for many years at Miami University. The Walter Havighurst Special Collection was founded in 1970. It includes administratively the University Archives. One of the two Butler County public library systems is the Lane Library. Its Oxford branch hosts the Smith Library of Regional History, named after historians William E. and Ophia D. Smith. The Smith Library recently acquired a handsome new suite of rooms. The main Lane library in Hamilton includes the Cummins history room, named after George C. Cummins, a history enthusiast. The county government is in charge of the Butler County Records Center & Archives. There is a private county historical society and one in Middletown, but I know little about them. I don't think that the other county public library system, Midpointe, headquartered in Middletown, has a history room but could be wrong. Down the road is the large city of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati History Library and Archives (formerly the Cincinnati Historical Society library) is closed for reconstruction. The large Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is rich in historical materials. Although I have no first-hand knowledge of what the University of Cincinnati has, I assume that it too has abundant historical materials. Finally, I should mention OhioLink provides statewide access to virtually all the libraries in the state that can be accessed without ILL.

David is correct about the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County being a rich resource as would the Cincinnati History Library and Archives be if it was not closed for the next two to three years for rebuilding the beautiful but decaying Art Deco Union Terminal building where it is housed. The University of Cincinnati Archive and Rare Books Library is also a very rich source for historical materials. It has a very strong Urban Studies manuscript collection that is indispensable for the study of the history of the Greater Cincinnati region in the 20th century. It also has a strong German Americana collection reflecting Cincinnati's German heritage and is the official repository for government records in Southwest Ohio, though I think that these collections are a bit spotty and depend on which government entities remembered to ship their archives to UC and which ones put them in the dumpster. Finally, it also has a strong rare books collection, though not focused on the Cincinnati region. The staff is small, but super helpful and knowledgeable. My students come back from doing research projects there with great accounts about the help they received.

Fritz's reply is very helpful. Unfortunately, I know little about libraries an hour's drive distant. I often learn by chance. I remember when visiting the Mercantile Library in Cincinnati being urged to go to the Lloyd library for its scientific collections. Not being an historian of science I have yet to visit. It was by chance that I learned that the Ohio Historical Society (as it then was called) had a considerable number of British and other foreign temperance periodicals, presumably exchanges with the defunct Anti-Saloon League. It was also by chance that I obtained access to the manuscripts that provided the core for my case study of the Women's Temperance Crusade in the village of Oxford. Workmen rehabbing an old house that Miami University had acquired stumbled upon a trove of manuscripts. Special Collections knew that I was interested in temperance and gave me a call. There was a chapter on Oxford's Crusade in an old book, but scholars did knot know that Fair Oxford contained such a chapter.

Back to the original question: is lack of money hampering historical libraries and archives? In Ohio the major state historical organization has been forced to reduce the hours of its library/archives. Re universities evidence is unclear. Probably it varies from institution to institution. State money for public libraries has shrunk but sometimes local taxes have filled the gap. In the case of the Smith Library of Regional History private funding has helped. In short, the story is not entirely happy but far from what seems to be a disaster elsewhere in the Midwest.

Problems at Louisiana State University-Shreveport are a reminder that archives and libraries everywhere are under threat.

“[Archivist] McLemore said it would cost thousands of dollars to move the archives from its current location, so the staff places valuable documents in plastic sheet protectors, covers computer storage files with plastic tablecloths and catches rainwater in various trash receptacles. McLemore said the budget for LSUS has been cut each year.”

I'd like to respond to this thread regarding the Ohio History Connection (aka the Ohio Historical Society). One of the ways OHC responded to shortfalls from state funding was to enter into management agreements for many of their sites around the state. In 2010, the History Department at Youngstown State University entered into such an agreement with OHC for its Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor. This agreement has been win-win for both parties. The site stays open and the students in our Applied History program gain valuable experience. This also happens to be the only OHC site outside of Columbus that has a library/archives. Since 2010 we were able to increase the operating hours to include an additional Saturday (it used to only be open one Saturday a month; now it's two--the first and third Saturdays) and even added evening hours every Thursday during the academic year. In my experience, the management agreements have been key to keeping OHC historic sites open around the state.