Screwed in the Volunteer State

If you haven’t already, please read fellow blogger Mark Cheathem’s editorial on the budget cuts faced by the Tennessee State Library and Archives.  TSLA is a fine institution, and it deserves better than having its hours and personnel slashed.

Drop a line to the governor and to state legislators so we can let them know that there are quite a few of us out there who think archives are important.  Click here to get in touch with Gov. Haslam, and here to identify and contact your state legislators.

Then, if you’d like to see the kind of attitude that puts archives in a precarious position, take a look at some of the dazzlingly ignorant comments that irate  readers have left on Mark’s op-ed.  A sample: “Again, the taxpayer is being asked to fund a function to benefit the letter writer. It is exactly this type of expectation that has created the situation we are in as a state and country.”

Yup, that’s how it works.  Citizens pay taxes which help fund government services that benefit you, and then you in turn pay taxes to help fund government services which benefit still other citizens.  It’s called “society,” and we’re glad to have you aboard.

That was actually one of the more intelligent comments.  It’s this sort of thing that helps answer my oft-asked question of why we Tennesseans have such amnesia when it comes to our history.

Look, I’m all for fiscal prudence in government.  But maintaining important records and ensuring access to them is simply too important a task to handle in a cavalier, ill-informed fashion.  You can’t have a responsible government without an informed citizenry, and you can’t have an informed citizenry without the services that archives provide.  If sentiments like those quoted above are typical of how little we Tennesseans regard information about who we were and are, then an unbalanced budget is the least of our problems.

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3 Comments

Filed under Tennessee History

3 responses to “Screwed in the Volunteer State

  1. Unfortunately, there is a rather toxic train of thought that holds that public sector jobs are not “real” jobs, and are not only expendable without cost, but slightly immoral in the first place.

    For myself, my thinking has long been in line with Oliver Wendell Holmes, who observed that, “I enjoy paying taxes. It buys me civilization.”

  2. Michael Lynch

    The imbalance in America between manufacturing and public sector jobs is deeply troubling, but you’re right–there is this ugly knee-jerk tendency to assume that if you’re engaged in public work of some kind, you must be a parasite. It was pretty apparent to me that few of the people criticizing Mark’s piece had any real notion of what the archives are for and what services they provide.

    If the state isn’t supposed to ensure that this material is preserved and made available, then who is? Is it not the state’s responsibility to handle stewardship of this material for her citizens, since it’s basically our collective memory and the common inheritance of all of us? I don’t deny that we’re in serious fiscal hock in TN, but I hate to see TSLA bled white because of it.

    –ML

  3. There was a similar article recently about the Houston Public Library going through millions of dollars in cuts — layoffs, closing branches, shorter hours, and so on. (Some of those cuts will affect the historical archives there, which is a magnificent resource.) Some jackass in the paper opined that public sector workers “generate no wealth” and therefore, as you suggest, are mere parasites. What they fail to grasp is that the public sector isn’t intended to generate wealth; if it did, it would be covered by the private sector. We have public school teachers and nurses and bus drivers and DMV clerks and archivists and fire fighters and EMTs state university professors and elementary school lunch ladies and medical researchers and air traffic controllers and park rangers because we have, as a society, decided that having these people make life better for us all.

    We have decided that, haven’t we?

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