The last archivist to leave Seattle, please, will he turn off the lights?


The Seattle National Archives. (Feliks Banel, Radio KIRO)

Prestigious academic journal is the latest outlet to publish an article questioning the covert process to shut down the Seattle branch of the National Archives and Records Administration and sell the real estate where the popular facility has been located for nearly 60 years .

The latest issue of the Journal of Western Archives features a long article with the sarcastic, Reference title Boeing Bust, “The last archivist to leave Seattle please turn off the lights.” It is co-authored by University of Missouri graduate student Megan Llewellyn and school teacher Dr. Sarah Buchanan.

Llewellyn, a native of the Seattle area, began work on the play earlier this year, shortly after KIRO Radio announced that the long-standing local facility had been targeted for closure and sale by an agency. esoteric federal government called the Public Buildings Reform Board (PBRB).

If the sale and closure are successful, invaluable archival documents related to the federal and tribal history of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska – and currently stored and made available at the facility located near Magnuson Park – will be relocated to other NARA facilities hundreds of kilometers away. .

Only a fraction of the documents stored in Seattle are currently digitized, and the scanning and other steps necessary to digitize the remaining documents and make them accessible after the move could take decades – while some larger items like maps and bound books. may never be properly scanned.

The controversial decision – officially made by the White House’s Office of Management and Budget based on the PBRB’s recommendations – remains the subject of a number of legal actions by the state attorney general from Washington, Bob Ferguson, while Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman called a series of meetings to explore alternatives to archives leaving the evergreen state.

Conducting interviews with staff at the National Archives in Seattle, interviews with the PBRB and other officials, and examining the history of the facility – and the media coverage surrounding the controversial decision – led Llewellyn and Buchanan to a new Conclusion: Not only was the decision made without an audience or other stakeholder input, the criteria used by the PBRB to make the decision were also fundamentally flawed.

The decision to close and sell the National Archives Seattle facility “was made by real estate and business experts. [who] don’t necessarily understand archiving, ”Llewellyn told KIRO Radio late last week.

“I think there was a huge lack of understanding in this decision of what the archives are, what they do and what they are used for,” Llewellyn continued, specifically highlighting the criteria by which the real estate of the Seattle National Archives was determined to be both a “valuable asset” and “underutilized.”

“Many of the decisions and measures that were applied in the decision to shut down the archives were based on measures developed in industries that have nothing to do with archiving,” Llewellyn said, explaining that the value of l archival facility in this specific location, providing access to all the invaluable materials it contains with the knowledgeable assistance of long-standing expert staff, did not register with the PBRB in what was purely a review of the market value of the land.

“The PBRB did not look at this decision at all from the perspective of an archivist,” said Llewellyn, or that of amateur and professional historians, tribal members, genealogists and others who depend on the Seattle facility.

Since there had been no public notice before the decision to close and sell was made, no archivist – or historian, genealogist, tribal member, or other person with an “archivist point of view” – was only allowed to intervene before it was too late.

Ultimately, says Megan Llewellyn, beyond the complete lack of a public process, there is no excuse for the misapplication of the federal law that gave the PBRB its mandate to dispose of federal real property, but which also included clear rules.

“They have to set their rules and recommendations based on the purpose and mission of the organization,” said Llewellyn, which in the case of Seattle real estate means the mission of the National Archives and Records Administration, of which “public access” is a key principle:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) promotes openness, cultivates public participation, and strengthens our country’s democracy through public access to valuable government records. The mission of the National Archives is to provide public access to federal government documents. Public access to government records enables Americans to claim their citizenship rights, hold their government to account, and understand their history so they can participate more effectively in their government.

In recommending that the Seattle branch of the National Archives be closed and sold, Megan Llewellyn says, the obscure Public Buildings Reform Board “has applied its tools, and they are great tools in certain circumstances.”

“Just not in this one,” Llewellyn said.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and learn more about If you have a story idea, please email Felikshere.


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