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Ohio Congressional Archives ‘close to capacity’

Joe Podelco/Lantern Photo Editor

As the largest university in the country, it makes sense Ohio State would have a lot of books. But it might have too many.

The Lantern reported last week that the university depositories are running out of room, leading workers to recycle old books or throw them away.

The Ohio Congressional Archives, a part of the Library Book Depository and University Archives Building on West Campus, is running out of room as well.

“If you know someone with $8 million, let me know,” said archivist Jeff Thomas, alluding to the cost of a new addition to the archives.

Spread throughout roughly three aisles — 32-feet-tall by 170-feet-long — are the congressional papers from four former Ohio lawmakers: ex-Ambassador Milton Wolf, former Reps. Ralph Regula and Deborah Pryce, and former Sen. John Glenn.

Thomas said although the Ohio Congressional Archives is looking for new material, it is close to full capacity. There is room for maybe “the next three or four years,” he said, before the collection runs out of space.

The collection began when Glenn was getting ready to leave office in the late 1990s. When someone who worked in the National Archives at the Library of Congress recommended he donate his Senate papers to OSU, Glenn contacted E. Gordon Gee, who was in his first run as president of OSU and was “all for it.”

“We gave (OSU) a massive amount of stuff,” Glenn said in a telephone interview with The Lantern. “When I was growing up as a young teenager in the Great Depression, you just didn’t throw things away. It became a lifelong habit.”

Glenn’s materials, which Thomas said are filed away in about 600 boxes, were donated in 1999 and became the John Glenn Collection. That was also the year the John Glenn Institute, now known as the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, was created.

OSU eventually decided to expand the collection to create the Ohio Congressional Archives, soliciting other former Congress members from Ohio to donate their materials as well.

In 2005, Wolf, former ambassador to Austria and Glenn’s campaign-finance director in his 1984 presidential campaign, donated his papers. Pryce, former representative to Ohio’s 15th District, and Regula, former representative of the 16th District, followed suit, donating their materials in 2008.

The donations include everything from the politicians’ period in office, including their voting record, speeches, press releases and documents from legislation they tried to pass.

The extraordinary amount of material is a lot to take care of, Thomas said. The dimly lit 1,200 cubic-foot rooms the collections are located in, called “modules,” have no piping system — therefore no moisture — and must be kept at 60 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

Thomas said it costs about $80,000 a year to run the Congressional Archives.

Former lawmakers have the option to restrict their material for a certain number of years for privacy reasons, Thomas said, and have no obligation to donate their papers.

“They can throw them away, if they so desire,” Thomas said. “I don’t really think for the most part that happens … but that’s totally possible, and it’s their right.”

Thomas said most of Congress realizes the importance of donating their legislative material, especially after Congress passed a joint resolution in 2008 strongly encouraging its members to pass on papers to a book depository after they leave office.

Thomas said officials have “had conversations” with other former members of the Ohio Legislature, including former Rep. David Hobson and former Sen. Mike DeWine (recently voted Ohio’s new attorney general), but plans fell through. Hobson donated his materials to his alma mater, Wright State University, and DeWine donated his papers to his alma mater, Miami University.

Thomas said Sen. George V. Voinovich, who will be succeeded next year by Rob Portman, plans to donate his material to Ohio University, his alma mater, which houses the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs.

Calls to Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, who succeeded Pryce but lost to Steve Stivers on Nov. 2, were not returned.

For now, Thomas and Glenn encourage researchers to use the material for their studies. Anyone can use the archives, but Thomas said most requests come from people involved in political science. Thomas estimated that archive officials get about 90 requests per year through walk-ins, calls and e-mails. Because of the amount of material, Thomas encourages those interested in research to call ahead.

Glenn said he thinks the material will go to good use.

“If the researchers can help … current public officials in how they set up their own offices, then (the archives are) for a good purpose,” Glenn said.

Wolf passed away in 2005, and Regula and Pryce could not be reached for comment.

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