Government Records News
News from the State and Local Government Record Commissions
Vol. 3 No. 2 August 1998

Volunteers Needed to Prepare "Loose Records" for Microfilming by GSU

The Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU), which has previously microfilmed bound probate records in almost every Alabama county, has contacted the Department of Archives and History about filming additional unbound ("loose") probate records, such as marriage licenses, guardianships, Confederate pension records, estate case files, and circuit court files. For this purpose, ADAH needs to recruit volunteer projects at the county level to flatten and arrange the records prior to filming. The GSU will produce a computerized name index for all the records filmed. If your county's historical society, genealogical society, or other volunteer group would like to participate in such a project, please contact Tom Turley at (334)242-4452, ext. 234.

New Records Disposition Authorities Approved

At its meeting on July 29, 1998, the State Records Commission approved new records disposition authorities (RDAs) for the DEPARTMENT OF INSURANCE and the BOARD OF OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY. RDAs were revised for the ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY and the STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT RECORDS COMMISSIONS.

Due to the lack of a quorum, the Local Government Records Commission canceled its July meeting.

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Wednesday, October 28, 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).

Depositing Local Government Records in an Off-site Storage Facility

Providing adequate storage conditions for its records is a problem that every local government must face. So long as public business is transacted, records will continue to accumulate, inevitably overwhelming office files and storage space unless measures are taken to deal with their proliferation. Fortunately, there are many useful ways of dealing with the problem. Local officials can destroy outdated temporary records as soon as legally permissible, following disposition procedures authorized by the Local Government Records Commission. They can save space by employing alternative records storage media such as microforms and digital imaging systems. They can remove inactive paper files from office space and keep them in low-cost, high-volume records centers until the records' retention periods expire. For more information on these and other records management strategies, contact the Government Records Division of the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) at (334)242-4452.

Special problems arise when local governments must deal with old bound volumes or loose documents of permanent retention value. Both counties and municipalities maintain a variety of records (council or commission minutes; property and taxation records; audit reports; newspapers; wills, marriages, and other probate records) that document the history of their locality from the time of its foundation. In addition, the Local Government Records Commission has decreed that any record created prior to 1900 must be permanently preserved. Unfortunately, many Alabama counties and municipalities are ill-equipped to provide optimum storage conditions for their paper records. Even if the records are well-kept and accessible, environmental conditions prevailing in courthouses and city halls may not be conducive to their preservation. Destructive acids from wooden shelving migrate into records, even those housed in acid-free boxes and file folders. Overheated attics crack bindings and embrittle paper, while damp basements encourage the development of mold and mildew. Rats and insects infest such areas as well. Overhead water pipes may burst; badly wired buildings may burn down. Tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes periodically threaten to sweep everything away.

The ADAH Government Records Division can advise local governments on developing records management programs and disaster plans to combat such emergencies. The slow deterioration of improperly stored paper records is harder to control, because the damage is insidious and the only real solution--renovating an old facility or building a new one--is too expensive for many counties and municipalities. Fortunately, the Local Government Records Commission can offer local agencies a less costly (although less satisfactory or permanent) alternative: storing their records in an off-site depository that can provide a better storage environment for records. The vehicle for this arrangement, authorized by the commission in accordance with Attorney General's Opinion 91-00249, is the Local Government Records Depository Agreement. The depository agreement establishes a contract between a local government agency and its chosen depository, with oversight from the ADAH Government Records Division and the Local Government Records Commission.

1. Finding a Suitable Depository

Any depository chosen should offer significantly better conditions for preserving records (security, environmental control, and ease of public access) than the local government has available in its own storage space. "To the highest degree possible," the depository should satisfy the records storage guidelines endorsed by the Local Government Records Commission (see below). Several kinds of institutions may be considered as depositories: public libraries, university libraries or archives, local historical or genealogical societies, and (under carefully specified conditions) commercial records storage facilities. The Local Government Records Depository Agreement is also well-suited to define the terms on which a county or municipal archives stores records for the offices it serves.

2. Obtaining Standards and Evaluating Candidate Depositories

The Local Government Records Commission has endorsed standards for records storage facilities outlined in The Selection and Development of Local Government Records Storage Facilities, a leaflet issued by the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA) and available from the ADAH Government Records Division. The NAGARA leaflet lists a number of desirable features for records storage facilities, such as: location near the seat of government, concrete block construction, monitored access, and controlled humidity and temperature. Local governments should recognize, however, that no readily available depository is likely to meet all optimum standards for storing public records. While absolute adherence to the NAGARA guidelines is not expected, the Local Government Records Commission requires that the chosen depository "satisfy to the highest possible degree the storage guidelines outlined in the NAGARA Guide."

3. Authorizing and Preparing the Agreement

Normally, a local government documents its decision to negotiate a depository agreement through council or commission action. Agreements may be renewed after the initial two-year period. As a model for city council or county commission resolutions, the Government Records Division can provide a copy of the Local Government Records Commission's resolution to establish minimum depository guidelines, as well as a sample records depository agreement approved by the commission. Any depository agreement concluded between a local government and an off-site depository should cover several basic issues:

Custody of Records. Only physical custody of public records can be transferred to the depository. The originating local government agency retains full legal custody and responsibility for the records it creates.

Role of the Local Government. The local government agency provides the depository with an itemized list of all the records transferred, keeping a copy for its own future use and sending a copy to ADAH. Agency staff should inspect the depository at least annually, checking its itemized list against its records actually on the depository's shelves. More frequent inspections are strongly recommended. The agency should be fully satisfied that the depository is properly observing the agreement's terms and implementing the Local Government Records Commission's (NAGARA's) storage guidelines. Results of agency inspections should be reported to the commission on an annual basis.

Role of the Records Depository. The depository must allow access to the records as specified by the transferring agency, usually during the same hours that government offices are open. The depository may not charge the public for simply viewing records, but may impose a reasonable fee for duplication services. It may take no other action affecting the records (such as altering or removing them) without the written permission of the responsible agency official. Besides adhering to the Local Government Records Commission's storage guidelines, the depository must furnish fire protection, insurance, and surety bonds to protect the records against loss or damage. It must also cooperate in all inspections by agency or ADAH staff.

Role of the Local Government Records Commission and Government Records Division. On behalf of the commission, the ADAH Government Records Division reviews draft depository agreements and maintains copies of all agreements currently in force. Within the two-year period of an agreement, ADAH staff will join agency staff in inspecting the depository and the agency's records stored there. If the inspection results are satisfactory, the local government and depository may renew their contract by filing a new depository agreement with the Local Government Records Commission. Whenever feasible, however, the local government should consider investing the financial and staff resources needed for an adequate records storage facility under its own jurisdiction. For assistance in evaluating candidate depositories or reviewing draft agreements, county or municipal officials may call the Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

Stopping Mold Growth on Your Records

Mold spores are always in the air. When conditions are right for their development (temperatures over 70 degrees Fahrenheit, relative humidity over 70%, poor air circulation), molds and fungi become a threat to public records. Although active mold cultures stop growing in a controlled environment, they will not be killed. Molds and fungi attack the starches, glues, and cellulose in paper, making pages soft and weak and eventually causing them to crumble. Mold damage is easily distinguishable from acid deterioration, which embrittles paper and causes it to crack when folded. In either case, destruction of the records is the end result.

The only way to prevent mold is to control your records storage area's environment. (See the ADAH procedural leaflet Guidelines for Storing Inactive Paper Records," available from the Government Records Division.) If mold growth has already started, the spores can be killed, and their residue removed, by carefully cleaning the affected volumes with a solution of 1 cup liquid Lysol in 1 gallon of water, or 1 part chlorine bleach to 9 parts water. Use a damp sponge soaked in this solution to wipe mold and mildew from walls, shelves, and book covers. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area and to wear rubber gloves. For more information on this and other records conservation issues, contact Linda Overman, ADAH conservation officer, at (334)242-4452, ext. 229.

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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: 09/03/1998