RD538 - Annual Report on Reducing the Archival Backlog at the Library of Virginia – December 1, 2017

Executive Summary:

The Library of Virginia has served as the official archives at the seat of Virginia state government since 1823. The State Library expanded its mission in the 1830s to include adding non-governmental manuscripts to provide a more comprehensive historical accounting of Virginia history. The volume of archival material has increased significantly over time as donations have increased, government has grown more complex, and recording practices have become more detailed. Today, the Library’s archival collections number in excess of 125,000,000 items making it one of the largest collections of its type in the United States.

A backlog of unprocessed archival material developed in the second half of the twentieth century as the volume of incoming archival material increased and exceeded the capacity of staff to keep pace. The volume of unprocessed manuscripts continued to grow such that in 1998, archivists estimated that it would take an additional 54 years to process the backlog in addition to managing the rate of incoming archival material. The vast quantity of unprocessed material that existed at the end of the twentieth century represented a significant problem due to the inability to have a complete and accurate knowledge of items in the collection (allowing archivists to determine level of access due to any potential legal restrictions as well as insurance value), to identify and address preservation needs (including mold that could jeopardize other collections), and to make Virginia’s documentary heritage accessible to its citizenry (collections remain closed to the public until archivists can determine if they include privacy protected material or items subject to other legal restrictions).

The Virginia General Assembly recognized the seriousness of the Library’s need for appropriate resources to address the archival backlog in 1999. Passage of the budget bill that year included provisions to increase the level of staffing to more effectively reduce the backlog while managing the level of incoming archival accessions (Item 265, 1999 budget bill, Virginia General Assembly, http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?991+bud+21-265). Specifically, the bill provided funding for 17 positions in the second year of that biennium (2000), “to relieve the 54-year backlog in processing significant archival, special and other historical collections before the year 2020." Moreover, this action called upon the Librarian of Virginia and the State Archivist to conduct an annual study of Library’s archival preservation needs and priorities and to report annually to the Governor and the co-chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations Committees of the General Assembly on The Library of Virginia's progress to date in reducing its archival backlog. This report seeks to fulfill those requirements.