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Morrow's archives: 'knowledge repositories'

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton State University is in a unique situation because of its proximity to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Southeast Region Office, and the Georgia Archives.

"It's a marriage made in Morrow, so to speak," said University Spokesman John Shiffert. "This relationship is good for everybody. It's good for Clayton County. It's good for Morrow. It's good for both archives, and it's certainly good for Clayton State ... Our students have benefited from having those resources available to them."

Morrow, where the university is located, is the only place in the United States where a national archives facility is located next to a state archives facility. The university is also located next to the archives, giving Clayton State students two places to do research, while giving the archives access to the school's professors and other academic resources.

In fact, it was Clayton State that brought the archives together. Former CSU President Richard Skinner got the ball rolling about 10 years ago, during a conversation with John Carlin, the nation's chief archivist at the time, according to Shiffert.

"He [Skinner] literally called Carlin up and said 'Look, you've got a facility in East Point that is falling apart around you. Why don't you build a new facility in Morrow and we can share our resources,' " said Shiffert. "Well, NARA liked the idea and planning began. Meanwhile, Cathy Cox -- the former Secretary of State, not the current state school superintendent -- was made aware of what was going on.

"She [Cox] decided that she, too, had a facility over by Turner Field that was falling apart, so she decided to take advantage of this unique opportunity and had a new facility built down here as well," Shiffert added.

The Georgia Archives facility opened in 2003, and NARA opened their new facility in 2005.

Working Together

The university and the national archives work together on many programs throughout the year. The collaborations range from programs observing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday, to the lending of "blown up" versions of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to Clayton State for the school's annual constitution Days celebration every September.

CSU and the national archives will partner again for a Civic Engagement Research Conference on Feb. 7, 2009. The results of this year's presidential election will be the main topic at the conference. Students are encouraged to submit proposals and write essays for the conference.

"This conference provides a valuable opportunity to exchange ideas with other students, and to learn about different approaches to understanding how a presidential election -- arguably the most important event in a democracy -- impacts our country," said Mark May, the chairman of Clayton State's Civic Engagement Committee.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Archives has used the services of both students and faculty.

Several CSU students have been employed by the archives to work its scanning lab, where original documents are scanned into a computer, so they can be made available through the archives' web site.

The Georgia Archives has used the services of Randy Gooden, an assistant professor of history at Clayton State, for its Circuit Rider program. The program has given assistance to 117 local governments and historical societies since it began in 2005.

"We give a lot of grants to local governments and historical societies through the Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board," said David Carmicheal, the director of the Georgia Archives. "We discovered some of the grants were so small, and what they [the groups receiving the grants] really needed was just some advice. Someone to show them how to read and preserve their historical records," he said.l

Planning for the Future

Officials from the three institutions are working to create a master's program in archival studies. Shiffert said the three institutions worked with U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) to secure a $310,479 U.S. Department of Education planning grant in October. If approved by the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, it would be the Southeast's only graduate-level program in archival studies.

"The establishment of the ... [masters] program will fulfill the promise of the academic nexus between the university, the Georgia Archives, and [NARA]," said James McSweeney, the administrator for NARA's Southeast Region.

In October, Tom Eaves, Clayton State's [coordinator] of graduate studies, told the Clayton News Daily the university is roughly six months away from seeking approval from the regents. University officials, as well as officials from both archives, also have been working to develop the program and its curriculum.

Carmicheal, who sits on the curriculum committee for the program, said the archives will benefit from the masters program, because the archives will have "a place where we can influence the training they receive to make sure it meets our needs. We'd be hiring people who can really further our missions," he added.

McSweeney said students who want to pursue careers as archivists would benefit from the experience, because they will learn how to arrange, process and index documents at both archives. "The students' mining of our vast primary resources represents an archival and academic experience second to none," said McSweeney.