Under-funded and under-appreciated, the state archives had become a difficult place for historians to work. While other state archives had moved into the computer age, Alabama’s archives were still cataloging items the way it had in years past. You could say a lot of things, good things, about the operation, but efficient wasn’t one of them.
Plus, Bridges faced a problem when he set out to modernize the archives — he wasn’t from here.
Past directors were seeped in Alabama and Alabama history. They had connections to powerful politicians, which gave them advantages when working with state and local officials. Using these connections, they had brought more collections into the archives, which was having trouble housing it all.
Bridges — a Georgian, no less — was expected to lobby the state Legislature for more funds and make the collections more accessible. He was expected to preserve and protect the wonderful items housed in nooks and corners of the building, and display what it contained for the public to see.
In short, his job as director was to oversee records management, provide research services for politicians and the public, run a museum and keep the Legislature happy. It was a challenging assignment.
Bridges met the challenge. Today, the Alabama State Archives is a pleasant place for academic and genealogical research. Its friendly and knowledgeable staff is ready to help. Its finding aids, including online databases and digitalized images, are useful tools. Its preservation program protects and conserves documents and artifacts from every period of our history. A new “Museum of Alabama” has just opened to give the public a visual history lesson. And the building has been balanced with a new wing named, appropriately, for Bridges.
And now he is retiring.
Agency heads seldom get all the credit they are due, but from the tributes that are pouring in, this might just be one instance where a state department director is fittingly recognized for the great things he has accomplished. This page adds its voice to the chorus of tributes.
Thank you, Ed Bridges, for a job well done.