Government House wants legislation to move the Office of Archives from Planning and Natural Resources to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, arguing its experience with digitizing land and corporate records well suit it for digitizing historical records for the worldwide web, too.
Territorial Director of Libraries, Archives and Museums Ingrid Bough testified in favor of the change Wednesday before a hearing of the Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection.
"Virgin Islanders cannot afford to lose any of our history by losing any of our records by not using the best practices," Bough said. Placing archives under the Office of the Lieutenant Governor would give it a greater prominence by making a high-ranking elected official responsible for oversight, she said. Also, at least 20 states place oversight of state archives under the secretary of state, while in the USVI, the lieutenant governor serves that role, so the change would fit well with general practice nationally, she said.
Perhaps more significantly, though, many of the tasks being performed right now by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor are directly connected to digitizing documents for public use.
The lieutenant governor is "directly responsible for five agencies, and these five are the most prolific record-producing and storing agencies," Bough said. As a result, scanning, digitizing and putting the records online for public access "would be facilitated more easily," under that office, she said.
Ira Mills, director of financial planning for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, testified in support of the move, arguing the office is prepared to take up the task and has the equipment, expertise and personnel to digitize the archives, which he said would be a great step forward.
"Digitization not only protects original documents from the known risks of the tropical effects of humidity, heat and pest infestation, it reduces the likelihood of wear and tear on originals caused by excessive handling and it increases the possibilities of making the intellectual content of such records more widely accessible to more users," Mills said.
Several testifiers, including Myron Jackson, president of the V.I. Genealogical Society, argued archives and libraries need more money and resources rather than changes in management structure. And Sen. Nereida "Nellie" Rivera-O’Reilly and other senators said they were concerned about the costs of changing around responsibilities and personnel.
The bill was held in committee at Wednesday’s hearing on St. Thomas pending a second hearing on St. Croix to gather more community input, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 17.
The committee gave the nod to a bill to transferring several parcels of government-owned land adjacent to Magens Bay Beach to the Magens Bay Authority for preservation and upkeep. Robert Morón, chairman of the Magens Bay Authority, testified the authority determined in 2008 the land was owned by the government and began seeking the transfer of parcels no. 11-76-1 through 11-76-8 and a remainder of parcel no. 11.
"The north section along the Peterborg peninsula, known as Little Magens Bay, extending to the northeast, was of particular concern to the authority due to the excessive development and the potentiality for erosion sediment and sewer accumulation to discharge into Magens Bay," Morón said.
The committee also approved a bill enacting the Uniform Mechanical Code, the national standard for regulations covering mechanical trades. Both bills will now go to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
A Minor Coastal Zone Management permit for an existing 468-foot small private pier in Great Cruz Bay, located seaward of parcel No. 4-A Estate Chocolate Hole, St. John, also was approved in committee Wednesday, moving on for final legislative approval.
Present Wednesday were O’Reilly, Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Neville James, Ronald Russell and Louis Patrick Hill. Sen. Patrick Sprauve was absent.