State Historical Society employees take pay cuts

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Days after finding out that the State Historical Society of Missouri would be losing a quarter of its funding, the employees had a decision to make: take a pay cut or face major layoffs.

“We all felt that it was better for as many of us to keep our jobs as possible,” Lynn Wolf Gentzler, associate director of the society, said. “I think there was concern for each other.”

So rather than lose some of their own, each of the 25 employees volunteered to take a 20 percent pay cut.

“I know of no other state staff that would’ve continued to do their work with the pay cuts,” Lawrence Christensen, former president and a current trustee of the society, said.

The State Historical Society will now only operate four days a week, closing its doors on Fridays and Saturdays. The century-old quarterly Missouri Historical Review and microfilming of newspapers will also no longer receive state funding.

Executive Director Gary R. Kremer knew the cuts were coming, but they were twice as large as he had expected.

“The state is in a very difficult situation right now,” Kremer said.

Christensen characterized the cuts as "devastating."

"These cuts in a sense go right to the soul of who we are as Missourians," he said.

The $362,000 cut comes after the society already took a 10 percent cut to its budget earlier this year. The cuts were a part of a $202 million cut to the state budget announced on Oct. 28 by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The historical review costs about $15,000 to publish, but Kremer is confident the society will be able to continue to publish it through private funding.

Kremer has begun to solicit donations from the society’s editorial board, made up of scholars of Missouri history, and hopes that the board members' colleagues in the field will also give to the cause.

“We haven’t developed a culture of giving to the society because the state has always viewed it as important and given it funding,” Christensen said. “We need to make Missourians understand how central the society and history is to the population.”

Assuming the society can continue publishing the review, the decrease in working hours would make meeting publication deadlines more difficult, said Gentzler, who also serves as the associate editor.

The microfilm collection dates back to before Missouri became a state and contains more than 50,000 reels.

"It's the best state news collection in the U.S.," Christensen said. "That's a fact."

Digitization of newspapers makes the collection no less important, Kremer said.

“No one thinks of digitization as preservation,” Kremer said. “I bet you could look at the digital archives of any publication and find articles lost.”

The society will continue to hold newspapers and microfilm them, as funding allows.

The news of the funding cuts came as the society released architectural renderings for its proposed new home at its annual meeting. Located at Sixth and Elm streets, the five-story, 135,000-square-foot facility is estimated to cost $35 million. But there is no funding.

“I’m not even thinking about the new building,” Kremer said. “I’m focusing on the immediate.”

Though no one knows when or if their salaries will return to normal, employees are making adjustments, Gentzler said.

“People who work in a place like this tend to love history,” Kremer said. “It’s more than a job.”

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