Archivists of the Houston Area Statement on Texas Legislature HB 1962

The following letter was sent out today to Senators Creighton, Alvarado, Bettencourt, Taylor, Miles, Whitmire, Huffman, and Kolkhorst in response to the HB 1962:

Dear Senator _________,

The Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) is a professional organization of archivists and those with an interest in archives made up of about 150 members across the Houston area.  The organization exists to increase contact and communication between archivists and those working with records, to provide opportunities for professional development, and to promote archival repositories and activities in the greater Houston, Texas area.

The Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) object to Section 441.206 of Committee Substitute to HB 1962 (The Texas State Library and Archives Commission “Sunset Bill”) which changes the ownership of records housed within the TSLAC repository, as well as Regional Historical Resource Depositories (RHRD) across the state.

Professional archival practice is that an archive will have ownership over the records they house.  Section 441.206, as currently written, will abandon professional standards and leave ownership with the various legislative bodies that transfer the records, rather than the archives.  This would make TSLAC and other regional archival facilities into record storage locations rather than institutions preserving and providing access to the history of Texas, including the legislative process. 

Allowing the transferring entities to remove records at their discretion is an even greater risk.  Due to the length and complications of the legislative process, records may never be returned to TSLAC et al.  With no provisions made for their safety and security, these records could be mistakenly or intentionally destroyed without proper or legal authorization.  As archival materials are often unique and irreplaceable items, losing them would create significant gaps of the in the historical record, leaving Texans and researchers with an incomplete account of the state’s history.  If TSLAC et al. do not receive legal title to the records transferred, their ability to process, provide public access, and invest resources into the stewardship of the Texas legislature’s historical record will be irreparably compromised.  Their focus, understandably, would be with records that are under their permanent protection. 

Being asked to fulfill public information requests on records that they do not control is an undue burden on TSLAC and regional repository staff members.  Additionally, regional repositories do not receive state funding and would be under strain to send in records when requested.  This could end up costing the state more money as the colleges, universities, and public libraries that serve as regional repositories may decide the cost of participation is higher than the benefits. This would leave TSLAC to house the records and fulfill requests left in the wake of these previously dedicated partners.

The Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) 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.

Sincerely,

Board Members of the Archivists of the Houston Area (AHA!) on behalf of the group membership.

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