Rep. Stan Lambert
Texas House, District 71 Room E2.814
P.O. Box 2910
Austin, Texas 78768
Dear Rep. Lambert:
The Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA) is a professional organization representing over 500 members in the six states of the American Southwest (TX, LA, AR, OK, NM, AZ) who work in or are interested in preserving our documentary heritage, or the essential evidence of our lives, commonly called archives. Approximately half of SSA’s 500 members are from Texas.
The Society of Southwest Archivists objects to Section 441.206 of Committee Substitute to HB 1962 (The Texas State Library and Archives Commission “Sunset Bill”) which fundamentally changes ownership rights of archival state legislative records. Changes inserted into this bill by committee will have a significant detrimental impact on TSLAC as well as the 24 Regional Historical Records Depositories (RHRD) across the state who house archival legislative records.
Commonly held archival practice assumes that archival repositories take ownership of archival records upon transfer. As archival records are unique, and irreplaceable in most circumstances, it is the duty of the archival repository to protect those records from loss. Sec. 441.206, as currently written, would allow legislative entities to retain ownership over archival materials, even after their transfer to TSLAC or an RHRD. Further, Section 441.206 provides legislative entities the ability to recall archival materials for legislative use.
TSLAC and RHRDs hold archival records in secure facilities and make those records freely available for use within the supervised reading rooms of their facilities. It would be a mistake to allow removal of these materials from the archive with no provision for their safety or security where archival records could easily be misplaced, lost or errantly destroyed.
Archival facilities are much different from records storage facilities. Record storage facilities store records for a limited term, and users may retrieve records at any time. Archival record facilities store records permanently, users consult records on-site, and professional archivists
keep records in accordance with stringent security and preservation protocols to endure their long-term preservation. Archival repositories make significant financial investments in the permanent preservation of archival records for which they own. The transfer of title of archival records is essential to the core function of the archive, which is to preserve and protect the authenticity of legislative records.
Not only does Sec. 441.206 place archival records in jeopardy of accidental loss, it places an undue financial burden on TSLAC and RHRDs throughout the state who house and preserve state records. Sec. 441.206 mandates TSLAC and RHRDs retrieve records from archival storage and transport them to legislative offices upon request. To do so would require significant additional work and creation of entirely new work procedures. Who will pay these additional costs? Texas colleges, universities and public libraries as far away as El Paso who serve as RHRDs receive no state funding and would have no means of transporting records to Austin. It is possible that Sec. 441.206 could cause RHRDs to reconsider their participation in the depository program, forcing TSLAC to incur all the costs to reabsorb these regional materials.
It makes sense for TSLAC to fulfill Public Information requests as the owners of archival records in their possession. However, Sec. 441.206 places an unfair burden on TSLAC to respond to Public Information requests for records they do not own, and which may be retrieved by a legislative body at any time.
In fact, a potentially unintended consequence of this bill as currently written could be for archival repositories to not accept legislative papers without legal title, thus removing a significant part of history from the archival record. Also, if repositories were required to accept the records without title, they would most likely not invest staff time and resources into processing the records and making them available to the public.
The Society of Southwest Archivists requests the removal of Sec 441.206 from HB 1962 to ensure the preservation of archival records of historical and cultural significance to the State of Texas.
Elizabeth Lisa Cruces
Officers and Board Members of the Society of Southwest Archivists