Monday, February 25, 2013

Chuck Hagel's Archives: Access Denied

    Barring any last minute revelations, a second cloture vote by the Senate on Tuesday should guarantee Chuck Hagel will be the next Secretary of Defense.  And as long as the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO) and Hagel himself continue to refuse to allow anyone to access Hagel's considerable archives from his years as senator, currently housed at UNO, the chances of any such revelations are slim.  But although James T. Shaw, director of collections at UNO, says that the archives are not available because a trained archivist has not yet organized the entire record, there seems to have been a considerable amount of work accomplished sifting through the 1700+ boxes of documents and other artifacts. In fact, in the past three years, at least two exhibitions of Hagel's archives have been presented by UNO.

    The first exhibition was in 2010 and lasted for almost two months.  A press release described the rather extensive display:
The exhibition – A Senator’s Walls: A Selection of Photographs and Artifacts from the Offices of Senator Chuck Hagel – features more than 300 items from Hagel’s offices in Washington, DC; Omaha; Lincoln; Kearney; and Scottsbluff. The items on display include photographs, awards, gifts, cartoons, newspapers and magazines, presenting a visual history of the senator’s activities during his two, six-year terms in office.
    The press release also contains this statement that seems to contradict Shaw's recent statement that the complete archives will not be made available until the entire collection is indexed and organized:
The collection, known as the U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel Archives, will open partially to researchers by 2012.
     The timing has apparently changed considerably since 2010 since Stephen R. Shorb, the Dean of the Criss Library at UNO, recently told The Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper that he anticipated the archive will not be ready for another two and a half years. He did not indicate if this would be the partial access the 2010 press release spoke of or full access.

    The second exhibition of Hagel's archives was prepared to coincide with a visit from Hagel just this past November.  The Gateway, UNO's campus news organization, reported on the visit and special display created at the Criss Library:
Jessica Agler, archivist at the Chuck Hagel Archives, organized the event with her team and created a display of Hagel’s historic 1996 gubernatorial victory against Ben Nelson. 
Agler said there are 1,700 boxes of paper, 1,000 videos and cassettes, 500 books, and about 1,500 framed photos and plaques in the archive. Holly Newman Dzyban, student archivist, went through the artifacts and organized much of the exhibit in the Criss Library. 
“Some of the things I really enjoyed were the political cartoons and we have reproduced some of those upstairs,” Dzyban said. 
While there was a hefty amount of artifacts to sift through, Agler wanted students to be able to see the exhibit, come to the meeting and hear Hagel’s frank opinions about issues facing the nation.
    Charley Reed, Media Relations Coordinator at UNO, said in a recent email to The Weekly Standard, “The archive must be fully processed in line with archival best practices to assure that the archive is presented responsibly and to professional standards.”  It is not clear from the reports on the two exhibits if the student archivists are doing most of the work preparing the archives for final access or if their involvement was primarily to prepare the preliminary exhibits.  In any case, it is difficult to see how Senate staffers and journalists, who regularly do extensive research for their jobs, are insufficiently qualified to review the partially categorized Hagel material.

    Ironically, the 2010 press release about that Hagel exhibition contained the following statement:
The Hagel artifact exhibition at UNO kicks off during October, which is American Archives Month. This year’s theme is “I Found it in the Archives.” 
    When it comes to the Hagel archives, however, the only people finding anything are the college student archivists.  And unless Hagel or UNO reverse course, journalists, senators and their staff seeking information regarding the defense secretary nominee's past writings and statements won't be able to say “I Found it in the Archives.”  Come Tuesday, time to do so will have run out.

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