Library DrawingThe CONNector

APRIL 2000Volume 2 Number 2

The State Librarian's Column

Kendall WigginsKendall F. Wiggin
Connecticut State Librarian

"Connecticut's cultural, intellectual, and historical heritage is slowly but inexorably disappearing. The citizens of our State face a cultural crisis, the proportions of which are without equal or precedent in modern times." That is the opening paragraph of Connecticut's Preservation Crisis, the 1991 final report of the Connecticut Preservation Task Force. The report went on to note that "'Slow fires' are burning out of control throughout the stacks and files of all of Connecticut's libraries, archives, museums, historical societies, and other repositories where records and artifacts depicting our unique historical development are housed." In the intervening years little funding has been forthcoming to quell the fires. But this may be about to change.

The General Assembly is considering two complementary bills that would provide reliable funding for preservation and conservation efforts statewide. One mission of the Connecticut State Library is "to preserve and make accessible the records of Connecticut's history and heritage." Both pieces of legislation would provide significant new funds for the State Library to carry out this mission. The proposed funding would allow us to not only address the preservation of our current and past records, but our future records as well.

House Bill 5178 would establish a three-dollar filing fee on land transactions. Estimated to raise nearly $3 million dollars a year, one third of the funds would be retained by town and city clerks to fund needed preservation of local records. The funds could also be used for digitization projects and other efforts to make local records more accessible. The balance of the funds would be placed in a non-lapsing account with 70% being used for statewide grants to fund local records projects and 30% for preservation activities at the State Library. A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but failed in the House.

A recent report to the Commerce Committee cited inadequate funding, a lack of balance in heritage-based allocations and an overall crisis in the state when it comes to preserving our past. The recommendations in the report form the basis for Senate Bill 566, An Act Enhancing Cultural Heritage. The Act calls for investing $6.5 million in revenues from the tax on hotels and motels in the State's cultural heritage institutions to conserve and preserve our state's historic buildings, documents and archives. Several grant-matching programs administered by the State Library would deal specifically with the preservation of materials in our state's libraries, archives, museums and other repositories. Funds are also earmarked for preservation of materials at the State Library. One premise of the bill is that the treasures in our libraries, archives, and museums form the foundation of cultural heritage tourism that our state so greatly benefits from.

I am not going to speculate on the fate of either piece of legislation, but I think we are reaching what Malcolm Gladwell calls the "tipping point." Gladwell, considered one of our most original thinkers, believes that it takes just one person or event to cause a major change.

Meanwhile it will take all of us - librarians, genealogists, archivists, town clerks - to raise the publics' consciousness on this important issue. Sadly, one of the persistent voices in the quest for preservation funding passed away in March. Warren Buchanan was a professional genealogist and a great advocate for funding for preservation of our historical records. With all of your help we can advance the cause of preservation and conservation of our incredible historical record.

Who knows it might be the call that you make that suddenly moves us past the tipping point.

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