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Oklahoma Historical Society Research Center forced to cut open hours

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Authors, geneology researchers, journalists and students use Oklahoma Historical Society’s Research Center for their projects. | Photo Oklahoma Historical Society / provided
  • Authors, geneology researchers, journalists and students use Oklahoma Historical Society’s Research Center for their projects. | Photo Oklahoma Historical Society / provided

Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS) has been forced to close its research center, including the library and reading room, on Mondays in response to the latest round of state budget cuts. Implementation of the Monday closures began Aug. 1.

The agency has seen its state funding cut the last six years.

“Our state appropriation is for personnel, so over the years, as people leave or retire, we either do not fill those positions or we use part-time employees,” said Chad Williams, OHS director of research. “We’ve combatted the cuts that way for six years, but now we have no other resources.”

The reading room and library are most often used by authors, genealogy researchers, reporters and students, he said. About a dozen people visit each day. Student tour groups also frequent the library and are given an overview of research practices by staff.

Williams said it takes four people nine hours to run the reading room. Last year, two full-time employees accepted buy-outs.

“We’ve been lucky that until now, we’ve been able to stay open during the same hours as our museum. But now, if someone is sick or if someone goes on vacation, there’s just no way to make it work,” Williams said. “Our assistant director now spends 90 percent of her time in the reading room out of necessity. We have dedicated staff who will literally come to work in a blizzard, and we can’t ask them to work with no breaks. And if you don’t take your leave, you start to lose some of it. We can’t ask that of people.”

Williams’ consternation and frustration is clear. He worked with the historical society’s executive director, Bob Blackburn, and its board before finally facing the realization and disappointment that they could tread no other path.

Dedicated workers

Williams began working at OHS as an intern more than 15 years ago and then worked as a volunteer, both while earning his master’s degree. He made his way into a job at the institution he clearly loves after four years of volunteering.

“In my career, we had three years with no cuts. But we’ve had a steady downturn ever since. We’ve worked hard to find new partners, whether libraries, universities or private organizations,” Williams said. “Blackburn has formed creative partnerships and is incredibly resourceful. But there’s only so much you can do. Our last cut was significant.”

The ongoing cuts have spurred innovation at the historical society. Staff and volunteers have been able to digitize and make searchable by word almost a million and a half files, all pages of newspapers from around the state as far back as the 1840s. A million more files are being processed.

All of them are free to use at okhistory.org, as is online access to the Dawes Final Rolls for the Five Civilized Tribes, death records, marriage and divorce records, Oklahoma State Penitentiary records from the 1930s and land lottery records. More is being added as quickly as possible.

“We used to have seven full-time staff dedicated to this ...,” Williams said. “All we want to do is what our mission dictates: collect, preserve and share the history of Oklahoma. We can’t afford to lose the mission.”

The library’s new hours are 10 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.

Print headline: Arrested research, Oklahoma Historical Society’s research center was forced to close on Mondays due to state budget cuts.

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