Government Records News
News from the State and Local Government Record Commissions
Vol. 4 No. 2 November 1999


State and Local Records Commissions Approve New, Revised Records Disposition Authorities

At its meeting on October 28, 1999, the State Records Commission approved new records disposition authorities (RDAs) for the ALABAMA STATE BOARD OF CHIROPRACTIC EXAMINERS, the ALABAMA BOARD OF HEATING AND AIR CONDITIONING CONTRACTORS, the ALABAMA REAL ESTATE APPRAISERS BOARD, the ALABAMA STATE BOARD OF REGISTRATION FOR INTERIOR DESIGNERS, the DEPARTMENT OF VETERAN AFFAIRS, and the STATE PILOTAGE COMMISSION. Revised RDAs were approved for the ALABAMA ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE CONTROL BOARD and the OFFICE OF THE STATE TREASURER.

The Local Government Records Commission, at its meeting on October 28, approved new RDAs for the BIRMINGHAM RACING COMMISSION, the CENTRAL ALABAMA AGING CONSORTIUM, and the CITY OF EUFAULA. Revised RDAs were approved for COUNTY PROBATE OFFICES and LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES.

The next meeting of the State and Local Government Records Commissions will be held on Wednesday, January 26, 2000, 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).

Planning Meeting Held for Local Government Grant Program

In 1985, a statewide study reported that "the condition of many of Alabama's local records is appalling. Records of value to the administration of government, and to the history of the locality and state, are deteriorating and disappearing at a rapid pace in courthouses, city halls, and other government offices. . ." Since that date, staff of the ADAH Government Records Division and hundreds of local government officials across the state have made vigorous-and frequently successful-efforts to improve the preservation and management of public records. Their efforts were aided during 1993-96 by a grant program funded by $400,000 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) and the Alabama legislature. Thirty-seven counties or municipalities received funding for such projects as conducting records inventories, applying disposition schedules, improving records storage space, and microfilming historical material. The grant program's impact went far beyond the local governments that directly benefitted, as it helped to foster such subsequent initiatives as the development of local government archives and the ADAH/GSU loose records microfilming program.

However, since the expiration of federal grant support in 1996, the state has lacked a regular funding mechanism to assist local governments with records preservation projects, while many counties and municipalities still lack the resources to undertake such projects on their own. Meanwhile, the greatly increased quantities of modern records, the use of new information technology, and the continued loss of historical records have created a new level of urgency about the need for improved records preservation. Local records remain some of the most important documentation of Alabama's history, often containing the only surviving information about the lives of the people who built our state.

On November 15, representatives from ADAH, the Local Government Records Commission, probate judges, city clerks, local government archives, and local historical and genealogical societies met at the League of Municipalities' building in Montgomery to discuss establishing a new, state-funded grant program for local records preservation. As a result of that discussion, the 2001 ADAH budget package sent to the Department of Finance requests an additional appropriation of $394,000 per year to be used for local records preservation grants. Attendees at the planning meeting envisioned grant funds being used to develop record-keeping systems that meet the needs of both local government officials and records users, preserve records of historical value, and encourage long-term records preservation initiatives statewide. Participants were also concerned that the grant process be handled by a local records advisory committee, working under the auspices of the Local Government Records Commission.

Activity on individual local records grants cannot move forward until funds become available. Meanwhile, if you or anyone you know is interested in supporting the establishment of a local records preservation grant program, or if you would like more information about other ADAH programs and services, please contact the Government Records Division at (334) 242-4452.

Staff Changes in ADAH Government Records Division

Amelia Winstead, an ADAH staff member since 1989, resigned on August 28 to accept a position with the Georgia Department of Archives and History. Richard Wang succeeds Amelia as head of the Government Records Division's state records section. Joining Richard and Chris Davidson is a new state records appraisal archivist, John Hanley, whose previous experience includes archival positions with the State University of New York, Oswego, and the U.S. Treasury Department. Mark Myers, a graduate student in archives at Auburn University, has been hired by the division as an electronic records archivist. Lyn Frazer, an ADAH staff member during 1996-98, will rejoin Tom Turley and Frank Brown in the local records section on November 22.

Audit Reports, Education Records Now Available at ADAH

Both the 1867 and 1876 versions of the Code of Alabama required the State Auditor to audit and adjust the accounts of all public officers, keeping a regular account for every county official authorized by law to collect and receive any part of the state's revenue. In 1939, the function of auditing state and county offices was transferred to the Department of Finance. It is now performed by the Examiners of Public Accounts. However, the State Auditor's Office may still, upon special request, perform audits independently from those conducted by the Examiners. The office recently transferred nine cubic feet of audit reports to ADAH. These reports, which are alphabetically arranged, span the years 1972 to 1997. Most of them cover local governments, but also included is a 1983 audit of Oak Mountain State Park. The report examines ways in which the park might be made more profitable, and several of its recommendations have since been implemented.

Also newly available for public reference are 206 cubic feet of Department of Education records, covering the years 1904 to 1922. Previously unprocessed, the files (mostly correspondence of the State Superintendent of Education) had been boxed in such a way as to make them unsuitable for reference use. With these records processed, ADAH can now provide access to the correspondence of all State Superintendents of Education from 1852 to 1987. For more information on these and other records in ADAH collections, contact the archival reference section at (334)242-4435, ext. 252.

Microfilming of Loose Records Begins in Two Alabama Counties

The loose records microfilming program, jointly administered by the ADAH Government Records Division and the Genealogical Society of Utah (GSU), continues to make rapid progress. Eight months after our first training workshops, volunteers are processing loose records in 25 Alabama counties, and records in two counties are already being filmed. GSU has hired a full-time camera operator who is filming Autauga County's estate case files (1800-1915) and marriage licenses (1850-1912), while a missionary couple is now filming circuit court files (1835-1901) and marriage licenses (1929-1936) in Calhoun County. ADAH has begun to receive its first rolls of processed microfilm, and we will provide reference copies to the counties upon conclusion of their projects. Meanwhile, a third team of GSU camera operators is scheduled within the next few weeks to begin filming loose records in south Alabama, where volunteers in several counties have almost finished records preparation. For more information on the ADAH/GSU loose records microfilming program, or to find out how to start a project in your county, contact Tom Turley at the Government Records Division, (334)242-4452 ext. 234, or tturley@archives.state.al.us.

Mobile Probate Court to Receive Historical Research Award

During a reception and award ceremony on December 6, the probate court of Mobile County will receive the Elizabeth B. Gould Historical Research Award, in recognition of its role in preserving the county's historical records. This prestigious award, named for "the First Lady of Mobile's History," comes shortly after the probate court archives department's tenth anniversary, which was celebrated in June. In addition to an ongoing microfilming program for probate records, the archives department has also organized, filmed, translated, and computer-indexed French and Spanish colonial and territorial records covering the history of Mobile County from 1715 to 1850. Congratulations to Judge "Red" Noonan, archivist Coll'ette King, head microfilmer Judy Busby, and the probate office staff.

The Dangers of Using Heat-Seal Lamination on Fragile Paper Records

Public officials, archivists, and researchers should be aware that a method once recommended for preserving records- heat-seal lamination-is actually extremely harmful to them. Lamination is the process of sealing paper records between sheets of plastic, using heat and pressure. A document or book page is sandwiched between two inner sheets of low- temperature plastic and two outer sheets of high-temperature plastic. When heat and pressure are applied, the inner sheets "melt" into the document, causing the outer ones to adhere and permanently encase the document. The inner sheets of plastic are sometimes polyethylene, which is not particularly harmful. However, the outer sheets are not archival quality.

While there is no assurance of the type of plastic used in lamination, very few types are chemically inert. Plastics are made from petroleum products. Most will "off gas," causing chemical reactions with the material (document) sealed inside. Also, plastics may contain polyvinyl chloride, which breaks down chemically and causes further deterioration of documents encased in it. The use of heat in lamination likewise harms the paper. Paper printed after about 1885 is made from wood pulp and contains acids that cause it to yellow and become brittle. Introducing heat during the lamination process speeds up this acid reaction, leading to rapid breakdown of the paper.

One of the principles of document conservation is that processes used to treat or mend items should always be reversible. Heat-seal lamination is not reversible; it is impossible to remove. Acidic documents that have been heat-seal laminated will become even more brittle over time. Nothing can be done to stabilize them, although improved storage conditions may slow down deterioration. Once laminated documents begin to become brittle, they should be microfilmed. (It will be difficult to film through the plastic, however, due to glare from the camera lights.) For a small number of documents, photocopying onto acid-free paper provides an alternative. In either case, the original records should then be closed.

Heat-seal lamination appears to offer physical support for fragile paper records, but it does not extend their life or even protect them from further deterioration. Although few archivists now recommend the practice, uninformed or unscrupulous vendors still offer it as a method of "preserving" historical records. Custodians of Alabama's public records should remember that heat-seal lamination is appropriate only for material with a short life expectancy. It should never be applied to documents of historical or intrinsic value.

If you have concerns about the preservation of deteriorating records, or if you have records that have been heat-seal laminated and you are concerned about their viability, 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: http://www.archives.state.al.us.


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Created: 12/10/1999