National Archives defends closing Alaska facility

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A decision to close a facility that houses Alaska historic records and send the material to Seattle was not made lightly and was the right thing to do, an executive who oversees the site said.

The National Archives and Records Association site has cost more than $500,000 a year to keep open. However, it recorded only 535 visits last year, association chief operating officer Jay Basanko said in a written statement, the Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

“When you look at the outliers, when you realize the millions of visitors we serve nationwide, and the shifts we’re seeing as far as how people use records, a business model where we maintain or increase locally focused facilities is not sustainable,” Bosanko said.

The federal agency is under financial pressure and has proposed a budget of $377 million, or $10 million less than the current year. It estimates that consolidation of the Alaska facility and two in Philadelphia and Fort Worth, Texas, will save $1.3 million annually.

Under the plan, Alaska historical records that occupy about 12,000 cubic feet of space will be moved to Seattle and digitized.

Bosanko acknowledged that will not be an “easy, inexpensive silver bullet that will relieve peoples’ concerns.” The agency will speak to researchers to decide what to digitize first, he said.

Alaska historians oppose closure of the archives. J. Pennelope Goforth, an Alaska Historical Society board member, said in an email to U.S. Sen. Mark Begich that the closure will affect research for Anchorage’s upcoming centennial.

Flying to Seattle to review records will be expensive, she said.

It will also be impossible for Alaska historians to flag records to digitize first before the material is shipped south, Goforth said.

Bosanko said the closure is an agency decision not subject to outside review. Many other states also do not have their own archive facilities, he wrote.

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