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

Commissions Approve State and Local Records Disposition Authorities

At its meeting on April 29, 1999, the State Records Commission approved new records disposition authorities (RDAs) for the BOARD OF EXAMINERS IN PSYCHOLOGY, the BOARD OF NURSING HOME ADMINISTRATORS, and the DEPARTMENT OF POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION. A revision of the RDA for the DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH was approved by the commission.

The Local Government Records Commission, also meeting on April 29, approved a records disposition authority for LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES. The commission also approved a new procedural leaflet on RDA development for local governments.

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Thursday, July 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).

County Officials Improve Records Storage Conditions and Develop Archives

During recent months, ADAH staff members have worked closely with several county governments on renovating records storage areas. Barbour County Probate Judge Anne Adams is currently installing new shelving in the Eufaula courthouse's former jail, which is being converted into an archives for historical records. In Tallapoosa County, Commission Chairman Johnny Allen is likewise overseeing the "clean-up" of unused jail cells on the courthouse's third floor, so that loose records stored there will be available for the ADAH/GSU microfilming project. During a trip to Ashland on May 20, Government Records Division archivists assisted Probate Judge George Ingram and Clay County volunteers in reorganizing records in the courthouse annex. ADAH commends these local government officials on their efforts to improve the management and preservation of their public records.

Special credit is due to Mr. Glen Drummond, who is finishing a two-year project to create an archival facility for Macon County. Mr. Drummond (who is the county engineer) thoroughly renovated two rooms in a courthouse annex by cleaning and repainting walls and floors; installing overhead lights, air conditioning, and archival shelving; and improving security by walling up windows and installing metal doors. The archives will be outfitted with a computer and work tables for researchers. Auburn City Library staff will help initially in cataloging records, but the county is looking for a permanent archivist. In financing the project, Mr. Drummond relied heavily on grants, donations, and volunteer assistance. The archives' completion allows 174 volumes of historical records, and 55 boxes of "loose" papers, to be moved from semi-trailers (where they were placed after a courthouse fire in 1985) and into proper storage.

Almost a dozen Alabama local governments have archives in operation, and others have archival programs in various stages of development. An "archives roundtable," composed of county and municipal archivists and ADAH staff, meets regularly to discuss common issues and concerns. For more information on the development of local archives programs, call the ADAH Government Records Division at (334)242-4452.

Volunteers Hard at Work on Loose Records Preparation

The joint initiative by the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) and the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU) to microfilm "loose" county records continues to make progress. These records-estate case files, marriage licenses, divorces, guardianships, apprenticeships, and Confederate pension records-contain some of the oldest, most historically valuable information held by Alabama 's local governments.

On March 19, the Morgan County Archives in Decatur sponsored our first training workshop for loose records volunteers. Staff of the Government Records Division, along with GSU staff, provided information on the techniques of inventorying and alphabetizing loose records; unfolding, humidifying, and arranging them; and removing staples, pins, and other fasteners. Sixty-eight volunteers, representing 15 county projects, came to the Decatur workshop. A week later, at the ADAH building in Montgomery, 32 participants from 14 county projects attended a similar workshop. Because some counties were unable to attend, Government Records Division archivists will offer the same training at another regional workshop (to be held early in the summer) or to individual projects.

ADAH is supplying boxes and file folders to the projects as they begin work. The next phase of the program is for volunteers and probate staff to inventory their loose records and determine the number of pages to be filmed. Most projects that were represented at the workshops are already hard at work. Once the inventory information is in hand, GSU staff can set up a microfilming schedule. Camera operators are expected to begin work within the next six months at various sites in north, central, or south Alabama. Upon conclusion of the program, each participating county will receive a free copy of its film.

So far, 43 Alabama counties have expressed interest in having their loose records microfilmed, leaving 24 counties that we have yet to hear from. If your probate office, circuit court, or historical/genealogical society would like more information on the loose records program, contact Tom Turley at the ADAH Government Records Division (334-242-4452, ext. 234) or

The Local Government Records Commission, also meeting on October 28, approved a records disposition authority for the CITY OF PELHAM. This RDA will be used as a model for other municipal records disposition authorities, as discussed in the article below.

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Friday, January 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).

Local Government RDA Development Continues

The ADAH Government Records Division continues to work with local governments on records disposition authority (RDA) development. RDAs analyze the functions that agencies perform, identify the permanent records needed to document those functions, and provide authority for the routine disposition of temporary records. Eventually, RDAs will replace general records schedules for all agencies of state and local government.

At the Local Government Records Commission's meeting on April 29, a new RDA was approved for local law enforcement agencies. It will be distributed to all county sheriff's offices and municipal police departments within the next few weeks. Meanwhile, 49 county boards of registrars and 32 county probate offices have accepted their new RDAs (which were approved in January) by returning signature pages signed by the responsible officials. Probate judges or registrars who have not returned signature pages for their RDAs must do so before the destruction of any records from their offices can be approved. If replacement copies of the RDAs are needed, they may be obtained from the Government Records Division by calling (334)242-4452.

A number of Alabama municipalities (including Eufaula, Jacksonville, Tuscaloosa, and Mobile) are currently at work adapting the City of Pelham's RDA for use. The ADAH Government Records Division strongly encourages other municipalities-especially those that already have active records management programs-to "take the plunge" and begin working on their RDAs. Future municipal records destruction notices will be approved on a case-by-case basis until RDA development has been completed.

On April 29, the Local Government Records Commission approved a new leaflet, "Procedures for Developing and Implementing a Local Government Records Disposition Authority," that may now be used by counties and municipalities in preparing RDAs. The leaflet covers each section of the RDA (analysis of agency functions, records appraisal, and records disposition requirements); explains the agency's role in RDA development (appointing a project coordinator, providing information on records and record-keeping systems); and instructs the local government in implementing the RDA after its approval (documenting records destructions, reporting to the commission.) Copies of this and other procedural and technical leaflets are available from the Government Records Division.

Humidifying and Flattening Rolled or Folded Documents

Documents that have been rolled or folded for a long time (such as old and brittle "loose" records) resist opening and may be damaged if they are forced to open. Introducing moisture through humidification, followed by careful flattening, allows the documents to return to a flat state safely. Humidification also reduces creases and fold lines that distort the image during microfilming. Great care, however, must be taken in handling fragile documents. Humidification should be closely monitored, so that excessive moisture is not introduced, and the growth of mold or mildew is prevented.

The best humidification method depends on a document's condition and how tightly it is rolled or folded. Of the two methods described below, the second is less likely to damage documents or encourage mildew. However, the first method should be used if documents are tightly rolled or folded.

1. Humidification Chambers. Humidification chambers are useful for humidifying long documents, such as architectural drawings or maps. To construct one, use two plastic trash cans-one of 30 gallons and one of 20 gallons. Cut several holes in the sides of the small can-near the top-to allow moist air to circulate. Pour about two inches of water into the large can; then place the small can inside it. This arrangement, with the holes high and the water level low, prevents water from seeping into the small can and wetting the documents. The water should be tepid; using warm water may cause condensation and damage the documents. Place a tight-fitting lid on the large can to keep moisture inside the chamber. The small (inner) can should be left open. If documents are too long to allow the lid to close, cover the large can with a piece of plastic sheeting and tie it to create a "tent," enclosing the documents and allowing humidification. If documents are humidifying too slowly, place sheets of blotting paper upright in the water to help convey moisture up through the chamber. Monitor the chamber often to prevent the documents from becoming too moist. It is best to begin humidifying early in the morning and to check periodically throughout the day. Remove documents when they can be unrolled or unfolded without causing further damage. Never humidify them over a weekend.

Flattening. After documents are removed from the chamber, they should be flattened. Place them between two sheets of acid-free blotting paper or thin cardboard, then between two large pieces of wood (approximately 3/4" thick) or a sheet of plexiglass 1/16" thick. Place weights on top, and allow the documents to dry and flatten overnight. If the blotting paper or cardboard absorbs moisture from the documents, it should be replaced the next morning. The procedure will take from one to two days. At the end of that time, the documents should be flat, although fold lines may still be visible. If the documents begin to curl again, repeat the process.

2. Humidification "Sandwich." To create a "sandwich" for humidifying documents, place a sheet of blotting paper or thin cardboard on a flat surface (such as glass, plexiglass, or wood); then hold one side of a second piece of blotting paper or cardboard under a faucet to run water on it. Lay the second piece on the first piece, wet side up. Place a third, dry piece of blotting paper or cardboard on the stack, followed by a sheet of silicone release paper, the document(s) to be humidified, and a second sheet of silicone release paper. Make a second blotting paper/ cardboard sandwich-exactly like the first one-for the sandwich's "top," so that the documents are in the middle. Place a weight (wood, glass, plexiglass, or lead) on top of the sandwich. If the documents are not dry and flat after 48 hours, repeat the process.

Remove documents from the chamber or sandwich when they are flexible, but before they become damp, soggy, or wet. Documents that are sufficiently humidified should feel pliable and show little resistance to opening. Rolled documents will generally begin to unroll during humidification. This process can be assisted by gently opening documents in stages.

For vendors of archival supplies mentioned in this article, and for more information on records conservation issues, contact Linda Overman, ADAH conservation officer, at (334)242-4452, ext. 229.

"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: 6/25/1999