“The Keepers”

Archivists and librarians are enjoying a moment now. In our era of deep social divisions, there is a wide distrust of public institutions and the authenticity of information. Significant portions of the public are distrustful of science, of the media, and information from other formerly trusted experts. But not from libraries and archives. The Pew Research Study “Libraries 2016” documented that the public has a high degree of confidence in the reliability and authenticity of information they get from libraries and, in fact, 42 percent of people go to the library primarily to get information from a librarian.

One of my favorite podcasts is called “The Keepers,” a series produced by Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, who call their production company The Kitchen Sisters Present. These are stories of “rogue librarians, curators, collectors and historians” who maintain the history and memory of our culture and civilization. The diversity of the archives discussed is awe-inspiring, from the Hip Hop Archive at Harvard University to Henri Langlois and the Cinematheque Francaise to the Pack Horse Librarians of 1930s Kentucky.

Nelson and Silva repeatedly mention the importance of the integrity of the record, the ability to keep these materials together in one place, uncompromised and unbroken.

This is why we are paying attention to a clause of our Sunset bill, HB 1962, that is moving through the legislature now that contains a provision that would transfer ownership of legislative records back to the legislature. For 110 years in Texas, as is consistent with standard practice of every other archive in the country, the custody of archival materials–records determined to be of permanent historical value to the state–have transferred to TSLAC. This provision would allow the legislature to retrieve legislative records from TSLAC or any other repository in the state whenever they chose to, a provision that could have significant implications for the integrity of the historical record.

TSLAC serves at the pleasure of the state and we are neutral on our Sunset bill as we are on any other legislation, however, as archivists and librarians, we worry about the implications for a loss of transparency and a further erosion of the trust in the authenticity of public information that had previously been highly trusted. We can’t be Keepers if we are not allowed to keep.

You can find all the episodes of “The Keepers” and all the podcasts by the Kitchen Sisters, and hear why they think archives and libraries are important at http://www.kitchensisters.org/present

For more on the TSLAC Sunset Bill, see the analysis of the bill by the non-partisan House Research Organization at https://hro.house.texas.gov/pdf/ba86R/HB1962.PDF