Authoritative NC Manual trying to stay alive

The North Carolina Manual,
the hefty reference volume that's served as the go-to almanac on
government for more than a century for state politicians, schoolchildren
and historians, may be slowly dying.

It's been the job of the
North Carolina Secretary of State for the past 75 years to collect and
produce the anthology of government facts and personalities, then
distribute them for free to most every government agency, state elected
official, university, secondary school and public library. Anyone else
could purchase a copy for $10 or a little more.

But the manual has
become victim to budget cuts and technology. The public more often uses
Google to learn the names of their current representatives, recent
election results or the official state flower, rather than look it up in
a dated book.

Since budget reductions during the Great Recession,
the manual hasn't been printed in book form since the 2007-08 edition.
The 2009-10 version is posted online, but getting the 2011-12 edition up
is behind schedule as workers in Marshall's office have more
responsibilities.

The General Assembly hasn't been interested in
providing funds that would revive the manual's printed publication, or
could improve its online presence, according to Secretary of State
Elaine Marshall's office.

“I think it's a tragedy that this
publication would not be widely available,” Marshall said. For years it
was considered among the most popular reference books in libraries, she
said.

In addition to names and biographical data on hundreds of
elected and appointed officials in North Carolina, the manual contains a
state history, state and federal Constitutions, election results and
detailed population figures

Want to know the name of North
Carolina's first attorney general (George Durant in 1677)? Go to the
manual. The birthday of former Gov. Jim Hunt? Look in the 1997-98
edition (it's May 16. 1937). Don't know the words to the state song (The
Old North State)? The manual gives a picture of the sheet music.

“It
was a really valuable compendium of information,” said Jeffrey Crow,
the retired head of state Office of Archives and History. Contents
proved useful for schoolchildren completing an assignment on North
Carolina government.

Marshall's office said it didn't seek cuts to
the manual. But it's not surprising publishing the manual and another
book was on the block when the state struggled to close billions of
dollars in shortfalls in 2009 and 2010. The Secretary of State already
performs duties such as keeping corporation records, registering
lobbyists and qualifying notaries public.

The manual was
consistently over 1,000 pages in the 1990s and early 2000s and included
dozens of color pages. Maybe 5,000 or 6,000 copies would be produced,
although Marshall's office said the 2007-08 edition had about 3,000
copies at a cost of less than $28,000.

First, the General Assembly
agreed to reduce money for printing by almost $20,000. Later, at the
recommendation of Gov. Beverly Perdue's budget proposal, legislators
eliminated the director of the office's Publications Division.

While
librarians surveyed during the last decade often called the manual
useful, more research and reference volumes were being posted online and
produced in digital form. The printed manual also wouldn't come out
until the terms of the people in the General Assembly inside already
ended.

“A printed publication comes in and it's already out of
date,” said Billy King, supervisor of the North Carolina Room at the
Forsyth County Public Library and a leader within the North Carolina
Library Association.

The legislature didn't end the requirement to
produce the manual, which now rests largely on the shoulders of public
information officer Liz Proctor. Marshall's office wanted to post the
2011-12 version of the manual by the middle of last year, but Proctor
said staffing limitations, software changes and other responsibilities
have led to delays. She hopes it will be posted soon.

Many of the
facts in the North Carolina Manual also are in smaller books produced by
outside groups or nonprofits. But they don't engender the same
authoritative nature the manual has had.

The manual's prototype
was first published in 1874 as the “Legislative Manual and Political
Register,” but then publication ceased until 1903, when it then got
produced biennially, according to documents in the state Legislative
Library. The manual expanded its coverage and became bound in 1913.

The
Secretary of State, the North Carolina Historical Commission or
legislative library issued the manual during the first decades of the
20th century.

“The demand for these volumes has been so great that
all previous editions have been exhausted,” according to the preface of
the 1939 edition. The General Assembly mandated the Secretary of State
produce the book later that year.

There it was under the eye of
Secretary of State Thad Eure Jr., who served for 53 years until 1989.
For his first edition in 1941, Eure wrote inside that he hoped the
manual would “prove useful, interesting and informative.”

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