Government Records News
News from the State and Local Government Record Commissions
Vol. 3 No. 4 March 1999

Archbishop Lipscomb Succeeds Mr. Steiner as Chairman of ADAH Board of Trustees

Mr. Robert E. Steiner III, chairman of the Department of Archives and History's board of trustees, died at his home in Montgomery on February 8. Mr. Steiner was a senior partner in the law firm of Steiner, Crum, and Baker. He was a former president of the Alabama State Bar, former chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, and member of the boards of directors of Regions Bank and the Western Railway of Alabama. Elected to the ADAH board of trustees in 1969, Mr. Steiner served first as vice-chairman and succeeded the late Judge C.J. Coley as chairman in May, 1998. ADAH will gratefully remember Mr. Steiner's many contributions to the board and the department. He will be succeeded as chairman by the Most Rev. Oscar H. Lipscomb, Archbishop of Mobile. Mr. James E. Simpson, a senior partner in the law firm of Lange, Simpson, Robinson, and Somerville in Birmingham, will become vice-chairman. Both Archbishop Lipscomb and Mr. Simpson have served on the board of trustees since 1978.

Commissions Approve State and Local Records Disposition Authorities

At its meeting on January 29, 1999, the State Records Commission approved new records disposition authorities (RDAs) for the ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT and the ALABAMA PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION. After reviewing annual reports from the following agencies, the commission renewed their RDAs for the coming year: Attorney General's Office, State Auditor's Office, Board of Dental Examiners of Alabama, Board of Examiners for Dietetic/Nutrition Practice, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, Hearing Instrument Dealers Board, Board of Pharmacy, Plumbers and Gas Fitters Examining Board, Department of Revenue, Securities Commission, State Treasurer's Office, Office of Voter Registration, and Department of Youth Services.

The Local Government Records Commission, also meeting on January 29, approved a records disposition authority for the COUNTY PROBATE OFFICES. The RDA for the COUNTY BOARDS OF REGISTRARS, originally approved in October 1997 and revised after review by the state Office of Voter Registration, was approved as amended.

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Thursday, April 29, 1999, in the Milo B. Howard Auditorium of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, 624 Washington Avenue, Montgomery. Starting times are 10:00 a.m. (State) and 1:30 p.m. (Local).

RDAs to be Implemented for County Boards of Registrars, Probate Offices, and Other Agencies of Local Government

The work of records disposition authority (RDA) development continues at the local level. A new RDA for probate offices was approved at the Local Government Records Commission meeting on January 29. At the same meeting, the RDA for county boards of registrars was revised following consultation with the state Office of Voter Registration. Both RDAs have been distributed to the respective county agencies. Each probate judge or registrar is asked to indicate compliance with the RDA by signing and returning a copy of its signature page to the ADAH Government Records Division. Within the next few weeks, the division will send these agencies complete instructions for implementing their new RDAs. County boards of registrars should not destroy any records until those instructions are received. Probate offices may destroy records during the interim by submitting a Local Government Records Destruction Notice and citing the appropriate page in their RDA (not the old probate general schedules, which are now rescinded). If your board of registrars or probate office has questions about the RDA or these interim procedures, please contact the Government Records Division.

Several Alabama municipalities have contacted ADAH about adapting the City of Pelham's RDA for their use. It should be suitable for most small or middle-sized mayor-council municipalities without substantial alteration. Plans are also under way to develop RDAs for a council-manager municipality and one or more large cities. The RDA for law enforcement agencies, originally scheduled for the Local Government Records Commission's January meeting, was held over until April. At that meeting, the commission will also review a new procedural leaflet on developing and implementing local government RDAs. Local agencies with an immediate interest can obtain a draft copy of the leaflet. For assistance with RDA development or other records management concerns, or for copies of any ADAH publication, call the Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

Training Workshops Scheduled for "Loose Records" Volunteers

As noted in recent GRN issues, the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) and the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) are cooperating in a new initiative to microfilm "loose records." Such records--marriage licenses, divorces, guardianships, apprenticeships, Confederate pension records, and estate case files--contain some of the oldest, most historically valuable information held by Alabama's local governments.

ADAH is already recruiting volunteers from local historical and genealogical societies to prepare loose records to be microfilmed. Next month, at a one-day workshop, ADAH staff, GSU camera operators, and other experienced persons will train local volunteers in the techniques of loose records preparation: unfolding, flattening, and cleaning records; arranging them in proper order; and removing staples, pins, and other fasteners. Related micrographic and records conservation issues will also be addressed. The workshop will be presented twice: at the Morgan County Archives (624 Bank St., Decatur) on Friday, March 19, and at the ADAH building in Montgomery on Friday, March 26.

So far, 36 Alabama counties have expressed interest in starting a loose records project. Because it will be difficult to train more than 75-100 people at each workshop, counties may need to limit the number of volunteers they send. Besides volunteers, staff from county probate offices and circuit courts are encouraged to attend. Participants may register for either workshop unless one gets too full. There is no registration fee, but ADAH cannot reimburse attendees' travel costs. For more information, or to register for a workshop, contact Tom Turley at the ADAH Government Records Division (334-242-4452, ext. 234) or

Removing Fasteners from Fragile Documents

Over time, a variety of fasteners (paper clips, grommets, brads, staples, straight pins, rubber bands, and ribbons) has been used to connect related documents. All such items can cause damage and must be removed before documents can be microfilmed. Removing fasteners without inflicting further damage requires special methods. First, place the document flat on a hard surface. Hold it lightly in place with one hand (near the fastener) to prevent it from shifting and being damaged as the fastener is removed.

Staples. If a document is in good condition-strong and flexible-a staple remover can be used. Care must be taken, as staple removers can tear thin paper or detach an entire corner of a document. If the document is fragile, a micro-spatula (a small tool available from archival suppliers) should be used. Place the document face down and use the staple remover or micro-spatula to lift the shanks of the staple first. Then turn the document over and carefully use the tool to pull the staple through the document from the front.

Paper Clips. A micro-spatula should be used to remove paper clips, particularly if they have rusted. With one finger holding down the longest side of the paper clip, use the micro-spatula to gently lift the short side of the paper clip straight up. The paper clip can then be lifted away from the document.

Grommets. Improper removal of grommets will result in significant tears. The following method is safe and quick, but should be used only when necessary. It requires a set of punches (with concave tips and sharp beveled edges that will cut through paper), a hammer, and very heavy cardboard to protect the flat surface used. Place a punch that is slightly larger than the grommet on the paper over the grommet. Strike it with the hammer to cut through the layers of paper and allow the grommet to fall out. Two or three hammer strokes may be necessary for thick stacks of paper.

Rubber Bands. In the early stages of deterioration, rubber bands become soft and tacky, often adhering to paper fibers and adjoining documents. In time, they harden and crack and are very difficult to remove if they become embedded in the document. The only effective method is to scrape them carefully off the paper, using the rounded end of a micro-spatula (not the pointed end). Lay the micro-spatula flat against the document. If the rubber band will not release without damaging the paper, it should be left alone.

For more information, contact Linda Overman, ADAH conservation officer, at (334)242-4452, ext. 229.

Governor James' Records/Other State Agency Records Transferred to ADAH

Government Records Division staff members recently assisted the Governor's Office in transferring 404 cubic feet of records created by the James Administration to the Department of Archives and History (ADAH). Staff reviewed and prepared for reference use records from the Press Office, Legislative Office, Appointments Office, Governor's Photographer, Scheduling Office, Constituent Affairs Office, Office of the Chief of Staff, Legal Office, and Executive Office of the Governor. Some interesting records received include: audio tapes of the "Fob James Live" radio program, telephone logs for the radio program, correspondence in support of the Governor's stand on displaying the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, news releases, photographs documenting the Governor's activities, and proclamations.

ADAH staff also worked with several other agencies to acquire records during the transition between the James and Siegelman administrations. Those agencies included the House Legislative Contact Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, the House Roll Call Clerk, the Joint Committee on Finance and Budget, the Speaker of the House, the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, the Department of Revenue, and the Office of the the Finance Director. Most of these records are available for research in the archival reference room at ADAH.

National Archives Bulletin Raises Electronic Records Issues

In response to a U.S. District Court's decision in Public Citizen v. Carlin, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has revised its policy on the retention of electronic records. A new bulletin was distributed to federal agencies on December 29, 1998, fifteen months after the court ruled that NARA's former electronic records policy was "null and void." NARA issued the revised policy even though it has appealed the verdict. The old policy was embodied in General Records Schedule 20: Disposition of Electronic Records, which allowed federal agencies to "delete any e-mail, word processing, and spreadsheet files if they printed out paper copies[;] but [the schedule] did not distinguish between housekeeping records and files pertaining to agencies' missions." NARA's new policy allows agencies to dispose of accounting, payroll, travel, and similar administrative records once they have created an official "record-keeping copy" in paper or electronic form. Additional electronic copies should be deleted within the next six months. The bulletin "does not authorize disposal of any records in agency [paper] files or other recordkeeping systems." A staff attorney for Public Citizen agreed that the revised "instructions 'can make sense' because the documents they cover 'are of relatively transitory value.'" For the first time, "[t]he new rules make it clear that agencies can routinely dispose of electronic housekeeping files."

The Society of American Archivists (SAA), which declined to join Public Citizen's lawsuit, criticized the position of both litigants before the verdict. On May 3, 1997, SAA described as "seriously flawed" Public Citizen's contention "that to remain useful, information must remain in the form in which it was created." The society also castigated NARA's GRS 20, particularly its focus "on records created and stored on a particular medium. Good record keeping ensures that adequate documentation . . . is created and retained, regardless of the specific technology used to create or store the records." To this extent, SAA's opinions reflect the policy endorsed by Alabama's State and Local Government Records Commissions. Retention requirements established in ADAH records disposition authorities and schedules apply equally to any public record, regardless of its format. Electronic mail, for instance, is defined in RDAs as "a communications tool that may record permanent or temporary information"--not as a special kind of record in itself. The appropriate retention period for e-mail messages may be determined by analyzing their content as though they were produced in more traditional formats, and then reviewing the disposition for such records found in general schedules or RDAs.

Information used in preparing this article was compiled from material available on the Archives List Serve ( For assistance with issues related to electronic records, or other records management concerns, contact the ADAH Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

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"Government Records News" is published by the Government Records Division of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, P.O. Box 300100, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-0100, telephone (334)242-4452. The newsletter, and other publications, are also available on-line through the ADAH web site:

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Created: 03/05/99