THRAB Presents 2022 Archival Awards: Gallery

three awards of different shapes sitting on a table.
THRAB 2022 Archival Awards

The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) held a board meeting at the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building on Friday, October 7 where members recognized recipients of the 2022 THRAB Archival Awards. Representatives from the Harry Ransom Center, Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), and the Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA) were on hand to accept the awards. Thanks to Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) Communications for the photos! Read more about the 2022 awards here. Click on each photo below for a larger image.

award trophy featuring the THRAB logo and the text: Archival Award of Excellence: Harry Ransom Center.
THRAB Archival Award of Excellence: Harry Ransom Center
four individuals pose with an award. In front is a table with the THRAB logo drape, THRAB banner and awards.
Harry Ransom Center representatives Alejandra Martinez, Daniel Zmud, Jim Kuhn, and Coyote Shook

award with THRAB logo and Advocacy for Archives Award: Texas Archival Resources Online
THRAB Advocacy for Archives Award: Texas Archival Resources Online
Eight individuals pose at table with awards, THRAB drape and banner.
TARO representatives Rebecca Romanchuk, Penny Castillo, Jimmy Williamson, Kristi Nedderman, Ada Negraru, Molly Hults, Aaron Choate, and Amy Bowman

THRAB David B. Gracy II Distinguished Archival Service Award: Society of Southwest Archivists
THRAB member Linda Barrett poses with Society of Southwest Archivists representatives Jimmy Williamson, Ada Negraru, Molly Hults, Mark Lambert, Daniel Alonzo (holding award), Mike Miller, and Rebecca Romanchuk

Congratulations to the 2022 THRAB Archival Award recipients! The nomination period for the 2023 awards will open in late spring. To keep up with announcements from THRAB, join the mailing list by sending a request to

Texas Archives Month 2022

October is Texas Archives Month! Each year, the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) team up to promote archives and archival work throughout the month. The annual celebration occurs in conjunction with the Society of American Archivists’ American Archives Month. The Texas Archives Month webpage provides a calendar of events, links to archival exhibits, proclamations, and more.

A key component of the Texas Archives Month celebration is an educational poster presented online with a range of resources related to the theme. The 2022 Texas Archives Month digital poster focuses on analyzing primary sources in the classroom and offers step-by-step tips for students and educators. The theme focuses on various types of primary sources students encounter and links to a webpage with helpful strategies for analyzing documents, photographs, and maps. Visitors will also find images from Texas archives to download and use with analysis worksheets provided by the National Archives Records Administration (NARA).

Texas Archives Month Poster 2022

If educators and students need more primary sources for practice and instruction, the poster webpage offers links to digital collections around the state providing access to thousands of images online.

Download the poster or just bookmark the webpage for quick reference here:

Texas Archives Month activities also annual archival awards administered by members of THRAB. THRAB is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2022 archival awards!

THRAB 2022 Archival Award Recipients

THRAB selected as the 2022 Archival Award of Excellence recipient the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas for their projects surrounding the reorganization and digitization of Radclyffe Hall and Una Vincenzo, Lady Troubridge Papers. Ransom Center staff collaborated to reorganize, digitize, and present online the collection as a digital archive available to an international audience. Additionally, they enhanced access with a of suite teaching guides to assist educators and students. Created in 2016, the Archival Award of Excellence recognizes significant achievements in preserving and improving access to historical records in Texas.

The Advocacy for Archives Award recognizes outstanding achievements and lasting impacts on the archival community and the historical record in Texas. The 2022 recipient of this award is Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO). TARO advocates for archives by coordinating with Texas repositories to create standardized, searchable online finding aids and offering a centralized portal for identifying and locating participating collections. TARO staff also train Texas archives personnel on how to use the software and employ the standards required to streamline access on the TARO platform, THRAB members believe TARO has helped revolutionize access to the historical record in Texas and looks forward to the growth and continued success of the project.

“The TARO steering committee is thrilled with this wonderful honor from THRAB that acknowledges the tremendous efforts of the countless volunteers across the dozens of member repositories contributing to this project. The award will also raise the profile of TARO and perhaps encourage even more repositories to join,” said TARO steering committee chair Samantha Dodd of Southern Methodist University.

The Society of Southwest Archivists (SSA) is the recipient of the David B. Gracy II Award for Distinguished Archival Service. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, the award recognizes the vital role the professional organization plays in the archival community. SSA Past President (2014-2015) Katie Salzman said, “It seems fitting that an organization whose early foundation and development was so influenced by Dr. Gracy should receive this honor. SSA embodies the dedication, advocacy, and leadership that were the hallmark of his own career.” SSA hosts an annual meeting, provides low-cost professional development opportunities, scholarships, and recently introduced an Archives-in-Residence program.

The awards will be presented at the next THRAB meeting on October 7 at the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

THRAB programming is supported by funds from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) Debuts New Website

As Texas Archives Month comes to a close, we are pleased to highlight the new interface for Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO), an essential tool for conducting archival research in Texas repositories. TARO is a website that allows for searching the collections of participating archives, libraries, and museums that have added finding aids to their list, including many from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC). TSLAC Archivist Rebecca Romanchuk has served on the TARO steering committee as chair and in 2021 is serving as the chair of TARO’s Summerlee Foundation New Member Initiative, which supports smaller archival institutions in joining TARO and adding finding aids to its website. We asked Rebecca a few questions about TARO and what to expect from the new look.

What is TARO and how was it developed?

Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) is a consortial program that provides free public access to collection descriptions or “finding aids” created by the state’s archives, libraries, and museums that describe the primary source documents and objects in their care. TARO was established in 1999 with initial funding from the Texas Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, one year after the release of the first version of Encoded Archival Description (EAD) developed by a group of American archives professionals. The TARO website was established at The University of Texas Libraries and has continued to reside there; UT Libraries formally became the institutional home for TARO in 2018. TSLAC was one of the seven founding institutions of the TARO project.

TARO has been fortunate to receive both a planning grant and an implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the latter of which will conclude in April 2022 and has resulted in a new searchable web platform for TARO. Additional grant outcomes include reports provided to members to improve controlled access terms in their finding aids that support the website’s search function and continued training for members in creating EAD finding aids.

Who runs TARO?

There are two “steering wheels” for TARO. One is in the hands of UT Libraries as the technical operations center for TARO. UT Libraries assigns five percent of a programmer’s time to keep the system running, address issues, and provide any further development for the web platform. TARO is very lucky to have such responsive and helpful support from UT Libraries! The other is in the hands of the aptly named TARO Steering Committee, consisting of seven elected officers (each an archivist or librarian from a TARO member institution) and a UT Libraries representative, all of whom operate under the current TARO Governance Plan. Several subcommittees have been created to handle key areas of TARO’s activities, create documents and reports as needed, and advise the Steering Committee: Authorized Terms, Funding & Sustainability, Governance, NEH Grant Management, Outreach & Education, Standards, and Website & Technology. Altogether, over 25 people regularly contribute their time to TARO, as work hours supported by their employing institution and as personal time. Their dedication is phenomenal!

What repositories are included on the list and how do they join?

TARO currently has 69 member repositories listed on its “About” page, ranging from public and private university libraries and archives to public libraries and museums with archival collections, municipal and religious archives, historical societies, non-profit research collections, and the two state agencies that are official state records archival repositories: TSLAC and the Texas General Land Office. Any organization within Texas that holds archival materials and creates finding aids for them may join TARO through one of two options: self-sustaining member creating its own EAD finding aids, or new member needing grant-funded EAD encoding assistance through TARO’s Summerlee Foundation New Member Initiative (contact the TARO Steering Committee Chair to discuss joining that project).

TARO map of repositories:

What improvements would you like to highlight?

The TARO website we’ve relied on for 20 years has had small behind-the-scenes improvements over that time, but never a full platform overhaul or any site redesign. Its age has been showing for a long while, though TARO members and researchers around the world have continued to benefit tremendously from its existence. The new TARO website is built according to current technical standards, and we think everyone will enjoy the fresh new graphic design and search functions. UT Libraries is continuing active development of the new website through the end of 2021 (any bugs showing up are being worked on) and will scale back to its usual maintenance mode in 2022.

Browsing all finding aids by creator, geographic area, and subject is now possible, so any finding aid from any repository that shares a term in one of those categories will be included in browse results, which helps researchers identify materials that may be closely related and relevant to their interests. TARO members can see where our finding aid data needs to be edited to use an established authorized form of a creator name. For example, “Houston, Sam, 1793-1863” has two additional slight variations of that name in browse results. Each TARO member has been given reports of the creator and geographic names and subject terms used in their finding aids along with the corrected form of those names and subjects, so that we can edit our data to be standard across TARO and improve the search experience.

TARO offers browsing option:

Do all states have something similar to TARO?

There are several state-wide and regional EAD consortiums in the United States, all of whom are participating in a US Institute for Museum and Library Services grant-funded project to research the needs of and develop prototypes for a National Archival Finding Aid Network. It’s been recognized that combining our efforts and support into a national hub for finding aid description would help bring in institutions without the resources to establish their own searchable finding aid websites and provide a centralized research discovery point for described archival materials held by US institutions. Achieving that goal will take some time. Meanwhile, consortiums like TARO continue to operate and improve as they are able to. Please visit some of our fellow EAD consortiums around the country!

Do you have any simple search tips?

The new search options are a lot of fun to try out! There are many angles you can approach a search from. In addition to a simple keyword search (this can be limited to a particular repository), the advanced search option allows you to refine a search by any combination of repository, title, creator, geographic area, and subject. Search results can be faceted by repository, language, and start and end dates. An advanced search can be limited to digital objects that feature a direct link to an online image, document, or recording, which must be encoded in the finding aid using a specific EAD element per item link. TSLAC uses a different method: Our finding aids with digital materials have one link to the Texas Digital Archive collection page from which all the digital items can be discovered, so search by digital object in TARO won’t include our finding aids.

Advanced search limiters in TARO:

If you want to see a particular repository’s finding aids presented in alphabetical order by creator of the materials, as the former TARO website did for each repository’s browse pages, go to the “Browse By” category and select “Repositories,” then click on a repository. A Results Summary page will appear, and a Sort By category option is available there. Choose Creator from the Sort By list and click on the A-Z order option to sort all of that repository’s finding aids in forward or reverse alphabetical order. The Sort By can be chosen for Title instead. There are also options to sort by Start Date and End Date (of the materials) and there are currently mixed results for that; the search function is only as accurate as the data it is searching, and some finding aids may need encoding edits to appear as expected in some searches. Data correction by TARO members is ongoing, and new finding aids are continually added to the website, so keep visiting to see what’s new and improved!

Thank you, Rebecca! We cannot wait to start searching.

Celebrating Archives Month in Texas

SAA American Archives Month promotional image with various media formats represented.
The Society of American Archivists encourages archives to celebrate American Archives Month each October. The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) coordinates with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) to promote the event as Texas Archives Month.

Each October, archivists raise awareness about the vital work being done to collect, preserve, and provide access to the materials held in repositories around the country through the American Archives Month campaign. In Texas, the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) coordinates with the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) to celebrate with Texas Archives Month initiatives.

THRAB and TSLAC produce a themed poster and webpage, which this year is Documenting Disability History in Texas. The poster is available for download and highlights collections from the State Archives, University of Texas at El Paso’s C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections, Forth Worth Public Library Archives, Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, and the Texas Disability History Collection at the University of Texas at Arlington’ Special Collections. The poster webpage offers additional resources from these institutions with images, video, and links to finding aids relevant to the theme. THRAB and TSLAC also maintain a Texas Archives Month webpage with a calendar of events, Archives Month proclamations, and links to archival exhibits online and on view in Texas.

THRAB commemorates Texas Archives Month each year by announcing the recipients of their annual archival awards. Awards recognize individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to ensure the preservation and availability of the historical record of Texas. The awards bring attention to the extent and variety of repositories in the state and acknowledge the work of individuals within their institutions. The 2021 award recipients were from Archives of the Big Bend, the archives held by Sul Ross University in Alpine and the Dallas Historical Society, a non-profit organization documenting local history in Dallas. Visit the archival awards webpage to read more about the current recipients and view a list of past winners. The THRAB webpage also announces professional development opportunities they offer throughout the year and recordings of past webinars to view on-demand.

Visit the Texas Archives Month webpage to find out more about the events, activities, and resources being promoted throughout October. Happy Archives Month!

Search Texas Supreme Court Records Online

By Richard Gilreath, Reference Archivist

M-12a, M case files, Case files, Texas Supreme Court records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. This case file is available on the TDA.

In an earlier post, we wrote about the recovery and preservation of Supreme Court case files removed from state custody. Today, we highlight recent efforts by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) to improve public access to early Texas Supreme Court case files.

TSLAC holds Texas Supreme Court case files dating from 1841 to 2004. Case files that date between 1841 and 1892 are known as M case files. These files are known as M case files because the Court renumbered them in the 1940s with an M prefix to resolve problems caused by duplicate numbering systems. These case files include Supreme Court cases from the Republic era, the Civil War and Reconstruction, and cover important topics from the 19th century, including slavery, property, and the rights of women, freed people of color, and other minorities. They document the workings of government, matters of business and law, and the experiences of past Texans. 

Digitizing the M case files makes these records available to the public through any internet-connected device, while also preserving the original documents from regular exposure and handling. Early case files are fragile due to pest destruction, iron gall ink deterioration, water damage, the nature of the materials (such as “onion skin” paper), and the age of the documents. Below, we will go over the Supreme Court M case files available on the Texas Digital Archive (TDA) and ways to access M case files.

Texas Supreme Court Records on the TDA

The Supreme Court records that have been digitized are available on the TDA. If you need help navigating or finding a case file, try using our webpage about accessing Supreme Court case files on the TDA.

M-119, M case files, Case files, Texas Supreme Court records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. This case file is available on the TDA.

M case files provide information about the lives of Texans between 1841 to 1892. Many of these files are available on the TDA, such as M-119, Maria Jesus Delgado de Smith v. Samuel Smith. This file provides details regarding Maria Jesus Delgado de Smith’s 1844 petition to the Supreme Court of Texas to be made the executor of her late husband’s will. While not all M case files have been added to the TDA, we are scanning and uploading files regularly.

These case files can vary in length, as sometimes only portions of a case file survived. As we discussed in our previous blog post about recovering Supreme Court case files, sometimes we recover portions of case files that had been lost or stolen. 

TSLAC has also digitized records helpful in finding case files and providing procedural details about them. The records available on the TDA include dockets and indexes.

M case files direct and reverse index, Indexes and registers, Texas Supreme Court records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Available on the TDA.

Researchers can review the direct and reverse index to M case files for the names of the parties, the old case file number, the M case file number (if one was assigned), a citation to the published opinion in the Texas Reports, and the filing date. The Texas Reports are also available through the Portal to Texas History. Some card files also cite the South Western Reporter. Not all case files from this time period survived and received M case file numbers, so the citation to the opinions can help find published information when the case files have been lost.

201-3, Supreme Court dockets (circuit court period), Dockets, Texas Supreme Court records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Available on the TDA.

Dockets from this period are also available on the TDA. Dockets provide the original number of the case, the attorneys, the parties, the county filed in, and notes about actions that occurred related to the case. The Court also sometimes stamped the dockets with M case file numbers.

Bar docket, Austin term, 1870. 201-35, Supreme Court dockets (circuit court period), Dockets, Texas Supreme Court records. Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Available on the TDA.

Both dockets and indexes can be used to locate an M case file number, which is necessary to locate the case file. Our Texas Supreme Court case files from this period are organized by M case file number, on both the Texas Digital Archive and in our Austin, Texas, facility.

Other Texas Supreme Court records from this period are not available through the TDA and are still accessible through the original paper records. This includes the minutes of the Court, indexes of attorneys registered to practice before the Court, and opinions. These paper records are described in more detail in the finding aid.

Searching for Supreme Court Case Files

A search tool to locate Supreme Court case files on the TDA may help with locating case files. You can search all of the case files that are have been uploaded onto the TDA, by party, M case file number, presiding judge of the District Court, originating county, and more. The cause of action field identifies the legal basis for a lawsuit, such as assault, debt, and probate. This allows you to locate multiple cases on a particular issue.

As a reminder, not all case files in our holdings are available on the TDA yet. We are still scanning and uploading case files dated 1841-1892 onto the TDA, so if a case isn’t available, it is a good idea to check with us.

Remember, if a case does not have an M case file number in the index or dockets, the case file could be missing or stolen. We maintain a list of missing M case files on our website, which is updated biannually. If a case file is missing or stolen, the published opinion in the Texas Reports may provide information about the circumstances of the case. Many volumes of the Texas Reports are available electronically through HathiTrust.

Please contact the reference desk for information about case files. Whether you need assistance locating one on the TDA, confirming the location of one that is not on the TDA, or help with restricted case files (dated after 1943), our reference staff are ready to help. You can contact the reference desk at

How to Convert Your Home Movie Tapes to Digital

By Steven Kantner, Digital Asset Coordinator

Videotapes and blank DVD-RV

Too much time on your hands during the pandemic? Digitize your old home videos before it’s too late!

Staying at home during this period of COVID-19 has allowed many of us to appreciate movie watching at home. Now may be a great time to consider digitizing your old home video movies that have been collecting dust in the closet. Unfortunately, we are facing the obsolescence of videotape and VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders). Those of you who may have bought Betamax in the 1980s are already familiar with the difficulties of an out-of-date format. But the more common VHS format, and the dozen or so camcorder formats that came and went since the 1990s are to the point where they will become unplayable due to either the tape degradation or the loss of working playback equipment and parts to repair them.

There are several approaches to digitizing your videos. One is to send them out to a service and let the professionals do all the work. This service is provided by companies ranging from small internet startups to well-known large corporations. If you are among the many who could never program the VCR’s clock, then this might be your best option. But, if you like to tinker and happen to have an old VCR to dust off, or know family or friends who do, you might be able to do this yourself. Here are three different options to try depending on what type of media and equipment you have available.

TIP: Different video formats have different ways to protect the tape from being recorded over. Research your videotape formats and do whatever you need to your tapes to protect your video. VHS tapes have a tab on the back, just like audiocassettes do on the top edge. Simply break that tab to prevent an “oops” moment! Do this regardless if you are digitizing the tapes yourself or sending them out to a service! You can see the wide variety of formats here in the Texas Commission on the Arts Videotape Identification and Assessment Guide:


OPTION I:  VHS-DVD combination player transfer

VHS-DVD combination player and recorder

If you already have one of these combo units around, you are in luck. These VHS players were popular in the 2000s and may be hiding in your closet, under the bed, or buried in boxes in your garage. If you don’t have one, you might look around at thrift stores, yard sales, and other outlets that may have old electronics. These units were already designed to convert your home video to digital video for DVD. DVDs were considered long-lived at the time they came out, but the writable and rewritable disks are not permanent and are prone to lose data over time – in as little as 10 years! They are not good preservation media and professional archivists don’t rely on DVD or CD media for sole copies of data in long-term archival digital storage environment. However, DVDs will work as a bridge to get your video into a computer.

What you need:

  1. A VHS-DVD combination player
  2. Blank DVD-R or DVD-RW disk media
  3. Computer with a DVD drive (internal or external)
  4. Free DVD video extraction software (such as Handbrake or VLC Media Player)

With the VHS-DVD combo unit, you can record your video onto the DVD, sometimes referred to as “dubbing” in device manuals. This DVD will be formatted to be played on a standard DVD video player. Follow the instruction manual for the unit to properly create and finalize the disk. Once complete, you will need a computer with a DVD drive attached or built-in (please note many computers today don’t include these drives, so you may need to use an older computer or borrow a USB DVD drive from someone). You can’t just drag and drop video from a DVD video disk – you will need to have software like the two in the list above that can read the disk’s data structure and repackage the video as a stand-alone file. Once you have extraction software installed (a.k.a., ripping software), you can copy the video (a.k.a., ripping) from the DVD and store it on your hard drive. A simple search online should uncover plenty of tutorials about the process for the software you choose to install. Remember, there is free open-source software that can do this, so you shouldn’t need to pay for any software to extract from the DVD.

In the professional archives field, best practice is to capture old analog video at its original resolution and uncompressed, which results in very large files not practical for most. For preserving your home movies, save it at the original resolution – here in the US that is NTSC at 720×480 pixels. DVD video already uses video compression to reduce its data footprint. Your best bet for video compression during extraction is to choose H.264 for the video and MP3 for the audio. This should provide you with the best balance between image quality and a file size. The final video file will likely have an extension of .mp4, although .mov or .avi may be found as well depending on your operating system and software.

TIP: Always inspect your media. If there is mold on it, you probably need to find someone to send it to for cleaning and digitization. Mold exposure can cause medical issues so don’t risk it at home. Look not only at the outside of the cassette but look at the tape pack through the window of the cassette. Any white or gray fuzz growing on the tape pack is a bad sign – it may also be yellow, green, black, or even dark purple in color. You do not want to contaminate all your other tapes by playing a moldy one in your VCR!

image: mold growing on tape

OPTION II:  MiniDV camcorder transfer

MiniDV camcorder

If you have a VCR and are fortunate to still have a MiniDV camcorder, you can use the camcorder to pass the VCR video to your computer. Keep in mind, MiniDV camcorders typically use Firewire cables (a.k.a., DV) to connect to your computer.

For those with newer Apple computers, adaptors can be found for Firewire to Thunderbolt. For those with Windows computers, you may be able to find Firewire expansion cards or other video capture interfaces that allow for Firewire (or DV as they may be labeled) connections for your PC. Some interfaces have additional inputs making this MiniDV camera method unnecessary, so keep that in mind if you decide to purchase a video capture interface.
Image: firewire cable

What you need:

  1. A VHS player, or player for whatever format you have
  2. Apple computer with Thunderbolt and Firewire adapters, or Windows computer with Firewire add-on card or USB video interface with DV connection
  3. Movie software (Apple’s iMovie or Windows Movie Maker)
MiniDV camcorder AV input jack

Once you have the MiniDV camcorder’s DV/Firewire cable plugged in, you should be able to find an AV input on the camcorder. Often camcorders have a miniature 1/8” jack for the AV input, similar to the small headphone jacks you are likely familiar with. The cable likely came with the camera, and it breaks out into three RCA connectors (sometimes referred to as “phono plugs” in consumer manuals) – one for video, one for audio left, and one for audio right. These RCA connectors are the common connections you find on VCRs and DVD players.

RCA connections and S-video

You can connect your VCR output to the RCA connections and plug the minijack into the camcorder. The camcorder should have a function selection on it that allows you to operate it in an “AV” mode instead of camera mode. This allows it to see the video from the VCR, convert them to a digital signal, and output them to the computer. If you have the camcorder in the correct setting, you usually should be able to see the video from the videotape playing on the LCD screen built into the camcorder. iMovie software on an Apple, or Windows Movie Maker software on a Windows PC, should be able to see the camera device and capture the digital video stream to your local computer. Review the section above for best settings for saving your files.

OPTION III: Video capture

Alternatively, if you don’t have a MiniDV player or the VHS-DVD combo deck, big box stores and online retailers carry USB based video interfaces that provide RCA connections for audio and video, S-video (an improved connection for video you might choose to use if you have it on your old playback equipment). These vary in quality and cost. Typically, the adage “you get what you pay for” is often true, but one of these should not set you back too much for capturing basic VHS quality video.  If you have a lot of home video you would like to digitize yourself, this small investment may be worthwhile.

TIP: It’s best to keep your original tapes safe after digitization just in case you need to access them again in the near future. Always store your tapes in an air-conditioned environment if possible. The best place is a closet, and of course avoid any “wet” areas such as a bathroom, kitchen, laundry room, etc. Keep the tapes off the floor at least several inches. A water leak will easily ruin your tapes.

Trouble with Tapes

You might have your old VCR all set up, along with your box of home videos you pulled from the garage. Excitedly, you put the first tape in, and after a short while the image starts looking terribly crooked and distorted and the audio might have a distinct odd distortion to it – or the tape just grinds the player to a halt and stops playing. Hit stop immediately! Your tape may be suffering from binder degradation. Forcing your VCR to play a degraded tape can damage both the tape and the VCR. Tape is a plastic base film with a coating to store the magnetic recordings. These coatings absorb moisture and begin to breakdown over time. Maybe your decision to store the tapes in your hot garage or attic was not such a “hot” idea after all! Tapes need dry and cool conditions to survive a long time – and ideally should be stored in a rewound state and vertically on their side.

Certain brands commonly have binder degradation. Sometimes you can identify a tape with degradation by smell, but it is not 100% foolproof. A very crayon-like waxy odor may indicate that it is suffering from problems. However, some tapes may smell slightly when first removed from their sleeve, yet playback fine. Some may not playback fine but do not smell.

There is a way to remediate the binder degradation, but only temporarily. In the professional digitization world, we do what we call “baking” – heating a tape over low temperatures for a long time. This temporarily cures the “stickiness” of the tape and allows it to perform better on playback – typically for a few weeks only. After a few weeks it will likely revert to an unplayable state and would need to be baked once more to be played again.

IMPORTANT: This “baking” is NOT something you can do with your home oven –do NOT put audiotapes, videotapes, OR motion picture film in your home oven! You can damage or destroy the media, or worse you may start a fire!

The idea of tape “baking” is to dehydrate – not to cook. Sometimes just adding the tape to a sealed airtight plastic bag with desiccant (that stuff you find in boxed products that states “Do not eat”) to absorb the moisture can work. But often tapes are too far gone and need more extreme measures. Professional archives like ours often have laboratory ovens that can accurately maintain temperature and perform this treatment.
Image: laboratory oven

There are some devices that allow you to perform this at home. Less expensive food dehydrators such as NESCO and Excalibur brands have been used to dehydrate tape. Some internet searches will turn up discussion forums on the use of these for tapes. It is NOT recommended to use a dehydrator for both food and tapes, and certainly not at the same time! The chemicals that leach out of plastics and tape coatings may not be something you want to eat! And you do not want to contaminate your tapes with byproducts of food either. A dehydrator for this purpose should have an internal fan to move air and should have a temperature control. I have used an Excalibur dehydrator at home to bake my own tapes at times when needed and successfully digitized them afterward.

Using a dehydrator to treat a tape at home

Baking tapes is a lot like Texas BBQ, low and slow. If you find you need to do this for a videotape, keep the temperature no more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit – and bake for 12-24 hours. If the tape has been stored in humid conditions for a long time, it may take even longer. Before placing tapes in a dehydrator, test it over time with a quality oven thermometer to see how accurate the device’s thermostat is.

IMPORTANT: Do NOT heat these tapes at higher temperatures or you risk melting the tape and/or plastic components! And again, NEVER put motion picture film in a dehydrator. This suggestion only pertains to videotapes!

Your video is digitized. Now what?

Having your video digitized is great – unless your hard drive fails, and you lose your data. Then you are back to square one. It’s best to follow the LOCKSS (Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe) concept – keeping a digital copy on your hard drive, a backup drive, and on the cloud provides you some extra security in case of a drive failure or other catastrophic loss of the physical storage device. You should have at least three copies of your digital files, and one copy should not be physically stored near the others.

Now all that is left to do is watch and enjoy!

Celebrate Texas Archives Month!

Each year in October we recognize the value of our archives and the efforts to preserve and provide access to the historical record by celebrating Texas Archives Month. Archives across the country create state-level activities and promotions in conjunction with American Archives Month. Live and in-person events are not expected this year due to COVID-19, but online activities and virtual programming will be happening throughout October.

The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) maintains the Texas Archives Month webpage with a calendar of events, links to archival exhibitions and local proclamations. Watch this space for THRAB award announcements and a series of posts from State Archives staff.

Be sure and keep up on social medial with the hashtags #TSLAC, #TXArchivesMonth and #AmericanArchivesMonth. Bring your curiosity and your questions to Twitter on October 7 when archivists respond to your queries online for #AskAnArchivist Day.

poster for Texas Archives Month 2020 with photos of Texas women forming a circle around the outline of the state. Title is 100 years of women's suffrage, a century of progress.

Texas Archives Month Poster 2020

THRAB kicks off the virtual activities with the annual Texas Archives Month poster, now available for download. The 2020 Texas Archives Month poster theme acknowledges the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and how this milestone for women’s suffrage in the United States created opportunities for progress for women in Texas. THRAB presents the poster with a “Texas Sampler” listing of online exhibitions detailing women’s suffrage in Texas with images and documents from archival collections. For those interested in exploring the guides to papers in Texas repositories, a link to an online search tool is also available. Happy Texas Archives Month!

The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board and its programs receive support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

THRAB Seeks Nominations for Archival Awards

Call for Nominations for Archival Awards of Excellence, Advocacy, and Distinguished Service

The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) is pleased to announce an expanded awards program for 2020. In addition to the Archival Award of Excellence for an individual and institution, THRAB seeks nominations for the Advocacy for Archives Award and a Distinguished Service Award. Organizations, individuals, programs, and institutions are all eligible for the new honors. Send nomination packets to THRAB coordinator Jelain Chubb at the address below by August 10, 2020. THRAB announces award recipients as part of Texas Archives Month celebrations in October.

Advocacy for Archives Award acknowledges an individual or organization that has made significant contributions to ensure the preservation and availability of the historical record of Texas.

Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual, archival institution, education program, or nonprofit/government organization that has provided outstanding leadership, service or contribution to the archives profession in Texas.

Archival Award of Excellence recognizes significant achievements in preserving and improving access to historical records in any format by a Texas archival institution and individual achievements.

For institutions: All Texas institutions responsible for archival records that provide public access to at least a portion of their collection are eligible. Achievements include recent projects and/or on-going programs that build collections, enhance access to archives, develop effective digitization programs, or implement preservation strategies.

For individual: An archivist or individual who has made an outstanding contribution in the areas of management, preservation, access, advocacy, or use of historical records in Texas. Nominees must have accomplished the work within the state of Texas during the five years preceding the year in which the award is presented. Current THRAB members are not eligible.

Nomination Process: Submit a complete nomination packet to THRAB coordinator Jelain Chubb. Nomination packets include the appropriate award nomination form, a statement of work accomplished, two letters of support and any supporting materials. For more information, visit

Nomination Forms:
Archival Award of Excellence
Advocacy for Archives
Distinguished Service

Send nominations via email or U.S. mail to: Jelain Chubb / ATTN: THRAB Awards / Texas State Library and Archives Commission / PO Box 12927 / Austin, TX 78701

Submit Nominations by August 10, 2020

The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board and its programs receive support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

THRAB and TSLAC Participate in the DFW Archives Bazaar

Archives bazaars are an increasingly popular way for repositories, libraries, historical and genealogical organizations, museums and others to join together and present to the public the research collections, services and educational opportunities available in various regions of Texas. The DFW Archives Bazaar took place Saturday, November 2 in the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center in Denton and both the Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) and the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) participated with exhibit booths. We enjoyed meeting our colleagues from North Texas and members of the community who stopped by to learn more about our efforts. Below are some photos from the event. The Houston Archives Bazaar will be held on Sunday, November 17 from 10a.m. – 2p.m. at White Oak Music Hall. See you there!

“Wish You Were Here!” Exhibit Opens at Sam Houston Center

The Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center presents the exhibit, “Wish You Were Here!” now on display in the Center’s museum. “Wish You Were Here!” highlights historic Southeast Texas vacation spots, industry, culture and recreational opportunities through a selection of postcards, tourism publications and historic documents curated from the research collections.

Among other sources, the exhibit pulls from the substantial Don Kelly Southeast Texas Postcard Collection, which covers almost the entirety of the 20th century and features visual documentation of the Southeast Texas oil refineries, architecture, rivers, railroads and much more.

An illustration of the front of the Pleasure Pier amusement complex in Port Arthur, located on Lake Sabine. The pier is pictured as completed, even though it was unfinished at the time of publication. 1991.183-964, Don Kelly Southeast Texas postcard collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Postcards promoted tourist attractions in the region and tell us about what appealed to those seeking leisurely adventure at a particular moment in time. Pleasure Pier in Port Arthur entertained visitors to the Gulf Coast and became a hot-spot for the local young people after the Pleasure Pier bridge was constructed in 1931. The amusements included a roller coaster, midway games and a dance hall with live music.

A color-added photograph of the Jefferson Theatre in Beaumont. 1991.183-236, Don Kelly Southeast Texas postcard collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Built in 1927, Beaumont’s historic Jefferson Theater was the site of a world premier of the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” twenty years later. The lovely theater is still in operation and stands as an impressive reminder of the glamorous era of film in the United States.

Sour Lake’s springs and hotel were a draw because of the purported health benefits of the sulphur in the water. The sulphur was also an indicator of oil in the area and the petroleum industry transformed the community into a boomtown in the early 1900s.

A photograph of Springs Hotel in Sour Lake. 1991.183-1384, Don Kelly Southeast Texas postcard collection. Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Postcards and promotional materials contribute to our material culture and reveal how people interacted with their environment and each other. Visit “Wish You Were Here!” for a fascinating view of the past.

A component of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center houses local government records, rare books, manuscripts, archival materials, photographs and other media formats covering a wide range of Southeast Texas history. In addition to the archives and museum, four historic buildings and the Jean Price Daniel Home and Archives are located on the Center’s grounds. Museum hours are Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit for more information.