As 2020 comes to a close, TSLAC bids a fond farewell to long-time employee and Assistant Director for Archives Laura Saegert, who is retiring after 39 years with the agency. Laura began her tenure at the State Archives with a grant project in 1981 and came on board full time in November of that year. She was led to the profession through her interest in history. While a graduate student at the University of Texas School of Library and Information Science (now the iSchool), Laura’s graduate advisor believed she would find archival work appealing and introduced her to Dr. David Gracy. The rest, she says, “is history!”
Laura first served as an assistant archivist then moved up through the ranks of archivist I, II and III. Following the retirement of both the state archivist and assistant director in 2009, Laura assumed many new duties as “team lead” for archives. This new chapter began during the final stages of the renovation of the Lorenzo de Zavala Building, tapping Laura’s project management skills.
By the time the new State Archivist Jelain Chubb arrived in June 2010, Laura was ready for even more challenges. She assumed the role of assistant director of archives in September 2010. According to Jelain, “Laura impressed me immediately with the depth of her archival knowledge, insights into the collections, and how well she had managed all the new responsibilities that came her way. She was undoubtedly the right person for the job.”
Though it is difficult to imagine the archives without Laura and her encyclopedic knowledge of the collections, she leaves an impressive legacy. In an ever-evolving landscape, she has guided her team through technological innovations in archival processes and improved online access to primary sources.
Recent efforts like the implementation of content management system ArchivesSpace and the creation of the Texas Digital Archive have kept us moving forward in our mission to preserve the historical record. The archives profession was obviously a true calling for Laura and her expertise will be missed.
We asked Laura a few questions about archives, her career with TSLAC and her future plans.
Q: What is an aspect of archival work that changed the most over the years?
A: Processing. When I started, we were doing a lot of item level processing (maps, photographs), and processing agency records was slower, spending more time on arrangement and description and producing very detailed finding aids. Over the years, due to the backlog and the sheer volume of records we have to deal with, the level of processing has moved to less time spent reviewing the records and providing less detail in the finding aids. The concept of processing is the same, but the time spent on each collection is less.
Q: What will you miss most about the archives?
A: Interaction with my staff and working with the records.
Q: Is there an item or a collection that is a particular favorite and why?
A: My favorite collection is the Historic Map Collection. I have always been fascinated by maps, even took a cartography course in college and learned how maps are created. I worked on the map collection part-time for 10 years and set up the online map application.
Other favorite collections are records involving the state prison system and the Texas Youth Commission. I processed most of the records in these groups. Life in the prison system or the juvenile delinquent system is so different than what I experience and in working with these records you see some things in a whole new light. You also see how badly these systems were managed in the past and realize that history repeats itself regarding management of these institutions.
Q: How will you spend your time in retirement?
A: For the next 12 to 18 months, starting in January, I will be taking care of my new grandson part of each weekday while my older daughter goes back to work. I will be doing more quilting, reading, and when things get closer to normal, doing some traveling.
We truly appreciate Laura’s impressive service to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and wish her a happy and pleasant retirement.