Most archivists and government clerks are quite helpful in maintaining public records and giving us access. However, there are some instances where the records custodian isn't fulfilling records requests as required by law. That's why there's a group called Reclaim the Records.
What Is Reclaim the Records?
Reclaim the Records is an organization founded by Brooke Schreier Ganz in 2015. Its mission is to get public records actually available to the public and does so using state-level freedom of information laws.
After Reclaim the Records wins their case, they make the copies available on Internet Archive and FamilySearch (for free!) That means that all of us win when they win!
In this video, I asked Brooke why she started Reclaim the Records and how she approaches records offices that aren't following the open records laws in their state. Her strategies can be used by others to get public records unlocked.
Some of Reclaim the Records' Successes:
These cases have already been decided in Reclaim the Records' favor and are now available online on Internet Archive and/or FamilySearch:
- State-level freedom of information laws vary by state.
- Records obtained through these requests are not obtained for free; researchers need to pay for them. (For example, Brooke had to pay $35/roll for the microfilm that she obtained from her first request out of New York City.)
- If you're going to make a freedom of information request to a state agency, know the law.
- Become familiar with the process for making a request; these processes vary by state.
- When you make a request, mention that you are an individual (or non-profit organization, if applicable) and that you are willing to pay for the copies of the records you are requesting.
- Be specific with your records request (specific collection and years) and tell them where you know there is already a copy.