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Historical Society puts microfilming state newspapers on hold

Budget concerns are at heart of issue
Tuesday, January 6, 2009 | 4:37 p.m. CST; updated 11:41 a.m. CST, Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Because of a lack of funding, hundreds of boxes of newspapers sit in the back storage room instead of being put on microfilm in the newspaper library of the State Historical Society of Missouri, which is in the basement of MU's Ellis Library.

COLUMBIA — Print is dead.

 Yet for more than a century, the State Historical Society of Missouri has carefully stowed the state’s daily newspapers in the basement of Ellis Library. Looming budget cuts have at least temporarily ended this tradition.

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In 2008, Historical Society Executive Director Gary Kremer decided to cut the service and curtail others instead of eliminating jobs.

Shed services or employees? It’s the conundrum causing a chorus of groans in the offices of state agencies as the economy and Missouri’s budget appear likely to endure leaner times.

The Historical Society’s inability to archive newspapers on microfilm might seem trivial but could signal just the beginning of cutbacks for the agencies that fall under the University of Missouri System’s Other Curators Programs.

The Missouri Institute of Mental Health and the Missouri Kidney Program have the same UM System classification as the Historical Society and were listed in a budget cut scenario report submitted to the state on Dec. 18.

The Missouri Institute of Mental Health would have to eliminate jobs if its funding is cut by 15 percent. A 25 percent reduction would lead to the closing of the institute’s Continuing Education program and further job cuts, according to the report.

The report also states that cuts of 15 percent to 25 percent for the Missouri Kidney Program would leave Missourians with End-Stage Renal Disease without life-sustaining services.

The scenarios described in the report would place other managers in the same position as Kremer, who is trying to balance the Historical Society’s mission statement against job losses.

"I'm trying very hard to avoid laying people off; that's always the last thing you want to do," Kremer said.

It’s a difficult task, given that the vast majority of the Historical Society’s state funding pays for workers’ salaries and benefits. And still, the decision won’t necessarily preserve the Historical Society’s work force.

A UM System-wide hiring freeze instituted on Nov. 17 has left many vacated positions unfilled.

“We have a woman across the hall who will retire at the end of January,” Kremer said. “The good news is that we won’t we won’t be paying her salary; the bad news is we won’t have her, and it’s a position that we can’t fill.”

But Walt Meyer, who has used the newspaper archive for the past 10 years to research high school sports, worries that some of the state’s history could be lost.

“There might be people 30 years from now that will be interested in the same kind of research that I’m doing, and it’ll be impossible if there aren’t any archives,” Meyer said.

The Historical Society has also aggressively been collecting works by Missouri artists, but this practice has also been curtailed until funding improves.

And if the Missouri General Assembly were to cut funding by 25 percent, the Historical Society would have to find a way to come up with the $50,000 it costs to publish and distribute its scholarly journal, which hasn’t missed an issue in more than 100 years.

“I’d hate to be the executive director who presided over the inability to publish an issue of the Missouri Historical Review,” Kremer said.

Potential cuts in state funding have made the Historical Society more reliant on individual contributions and membership fees, which are becoming scarce. This could mean additional cuts in services.

“In a tough economy, people pull back and focus on their own needs,” Kremer said. “In any given year we need to raise $300,000 to $400,000. Now we may need to raise double that.”

Despite the prospect of fewer state dollars, Kremer was sympathetic to administrators and members of the General Assembly, who have been forced to make tough decisions.

“If there are only so many dollars and you’re competing with institutions that deal with living or dying, it is understandable that the study of history might take a back seat,” Kremer said. “But I think it’s unfortunate.”


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Comments

Blake Segafredo January 7, 2009 | 12:57 p.m.

I find it interesting that an organization that is trying to muscle out a couple of existing businesses to build a new building is stopping a project because of budgeting. How can they afford a new building? That seems like quite the conundrum.

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