For the past year I’ve been waiting to get access to about a half dozen documents at the Harry Truman presidential library, that I need to look at before I publish a groundbreaking article that a lot of people are saying is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. OK they will be saying it, or maybe not, but the point here is I just need to be in that research room for like 45 minutes — I know exactly what the documents are and where they’re located, but I can’t get the archivists there to send me copies, probably because of my communism. Or maybe they don’t like Mexicans. Just kidding, people, but I’m getting really frustrated at this point.
So a week ago the Archivist of the United States, which sounds like something out of a Borges story or maybe Kafka, sends out a message saying that the man from the country may be granted access to the Law, but not at this time:
We are launching a pilot to test the policies and procedures we have developed. This week, we will welcome a small number of researchers to the National Archives Building in Washington, DC (Archives I) to start this process. We will also launch a pilot at the National Archives at College Park, MD (Archives II) no later than June 21. We will then expand the opening of research room services to the rest of the research rooms over the summer, depending on local health conditions, lessons learned and best practices identified in the early stages, and availability of staff.
Research visits will be by appointment and will require a virtual consultation prior to the onsite visit. Boxes of records will be pulled in advance and will be waiting at an assigned table. Research appointments will be for an entire day, and will accommodate a second pull. Our research room procedures will promote social distancing, while otherwise allowing us to serve records in a secure manner.
Both pilots will start with appointments by invitation to researchers who have significant onsite research experience at the pilot locations. This will allow us to best test our new policies and procedures by gaining insight from researchers most familiar with our pre-pandemic research room operations. As we expand the reopening of our research rooms, we will provide opportunities for researchers to engage with us to improve the researcher experience, while also keeping everyone safe.
Dear Mr. Archivist, here’s a super sophisticated set of protocols that will keep us all safe and happy: If you’re vaccinated you can use the archives, and if you’re not you can’t.
WHY ISN’T THIS THE POLICY FOR EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW?
Oh right, because we have to be sensitive to the feelings of people who are “hesitant” about vaccines. We need to be respectful to the insane farrago of nonsense that makes up their world view, because we must protect their Freedom to believe what they believe, which means there can be no negative consequences for them because of those beliefs, even if what they believe is both totally absurd and incredibly destructive for society as a whole. Because it says so somewhere in the Bible or the Constitution, as if there’s a difference.
I realize this isn’t the world’s or the nation’s most pressing crisis right at the moment, but, small as it is, it still really is symptomatic of what’s destroying this polity, one concession to theocratic authoritarian nationalism at a time.