The Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s Archives and Information Services Division welcomes applicants for the position of conservator. The TSLAC conservator manages a well-equipped lab and performs complex treatments on rare and unique archival and library materials. The conservator develops and monitors work procedures for the unit, establishes priorities, and makes treatment decisions.
In addition, the conservator assists with exhibits and other outreach and educational programs, preservation planning and surveys, emergency response; and environmental control. The position is available December 1, 2023. Those interested in this position should apply by November 30.
After delegates gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos in March of 1836 to form the new government of the Republic of Texas, they sent a handwritten copy of the Texas Declaration of Independence to the town of San Felipe de Austin for printers there to produce a broadside version for wider distribution. The printers were Baker & Bordens, a small company that handled other orders from the Texas government and published the newspaper, the Telegraph and Texas Register. Baker & Bordens took the order to publish 1,000 broadsides of the Declaration of Independence from Mexico. They also printed the text in the March 12, 1836, edition of their newspaper, where they apologized for neglecting to add the names of two signers of the document, including the author of the declaration, George Childress.
Introduction to TARO: Encoding and Submitting Finding Aids
The Texas Historical Records Advisory Board (THRAB) presents free training opportunities on encoding finding aids to enhance the collection access efforts of historical and genealogical societies, archives, museums, libraries, colleges, local governments, and other institutions who hold Texas’ archival collections. Through these workshops, archivists will learn the hands-on basic skills needed to participate in the Texas Archival Resources Online (TARO) finding aid platform, www.txarchives.org. Trainers will offer day-long workshops in Lubbock (3/20), Edinburg (4/17), and El Paso (5/25). Registration is free but limited to 15 participants at each site.
Registration is limited to 30 attendees residing in Texas and working for a repository or organization charged with preservation responsibilities but lacking in formal training. Preference will be given to employees or volunteers of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, or smaller institutions that serve rural areas and receive little or no funding for professional development. THRAB may limit registration to one person per institution to allocate space equitably.
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).
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.
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 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, txarchives.org. 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).
TSLAC joins the rest of the country in recognizing the contributions of those Americans with Asian/Pacific Islander heritage throughout the month of May. Though primary source documentation may be sparse at the State Archives, secondary sources like Nancy Farrar’s 1972 study, The Chinese in El Paso offer valuable descriptive information and data pulled from newspapers, census records and city directories.
The earliest arrival to Texas of Asians in any significant number were laborers from China who worked on the rail lines that were rapidly expanding across the state and connecting the country during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The Chinese migrants were young men who worked together on construction teams and would typically move from one site to another and often planned to eventually return home to China.
When the Southern Pacific Railroad was completed in 1881, the border city of El Paso was on the route to and from the west coast. While many laborers departed once the railroad line was built, some remained and established Chinese-run businesses located within a few city blocks of each other. A neighborhood referred to as “Chinatown” developed in downtown El Paso. A popular business to open was a laundromat, as the Chinese steam method had little competition in town
Image: Farrar, Nancy. The Chinese in El Paso. Texas Western Press, The University of Texas at El Paso, 1972. Texas Documents Collection, ZUA590.7 SO89 NO.33. Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Socially, the immigrants lived separately from the rest of the city early on. Because of strict immigration laws aimed specifically at Asians, women were not joining the men who had made the journey. The area was therefore comprised almost entirely of men. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 stemmed the flow of laborers coming to the U.S. and the exclusion continued with the Geary Act of 1902. Some exceptions were made, such as for merchants and teachers, and the prohibition was not always strictly enforced.
While the Chinese population in El Paso would start to decline in the early twentieth century, other groups from countries in Asia were creating communities in Texas. Farmers had arrived from Japan to work the rice fields of Southeast Texas and other Japanese immigrants opened restaurants and shops in Houston and the surrounding counties, for example.
Discovering information about the growth of Asian communities in Texas can sometimes occur by chance. A closer look at this Houston streetscape from about 1927 reveals a restaurant called the Chop Suey Café on the right side of Travis Street.
Here is a close-up view of the sign for the Chop Suey Café. The restaurant is in the shadow on the right-hand side of the street.
After the immigration laws changed in 1965 and restrictions on Asian immigrants were lifted, many more groups from regions across Asia would make their way to Texas. Houston emerged as a particularly attractive destination for various groups and is today one of the most diverse cities in the country.
Learn more about Asian Texans with resources from TSLAC.
When Elizabeth Howard West was hired as state archivist at the Texas State Library in 1911, she had been through library training, worked in manuscripts at the Library of Congress, and held a master’s degree in history from the University of Texas. Her first task was to organize more than a thousand boxes from the Comptroller’s Office that had been collecting in a basement, and she went on to create the calendar (annotated listing) for the Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar papers. She departed in 1915 and went to the San Antonio Public Library, where she served as director.
Today we recognize Elizabeth Howard West as a pioneer in Texas history. In 1918, she became the first woman to direct any state agency when she accepted the position as state librarian. West had a vision for a state library that expanded library services to reach all Texans. When she began as state librarian, only 16 percent of citizens in Texas had access to a free public library. She worked to improve this statistic by serving as president of the Texas Library Association and helping establish a county library system. West was so skilled at this work that she helped other states do the same.
West also provided library services to groups and individuals who had limited or no access to books. She initiated library services for the blind in 1916 while serving as director of the San Antonio Public Library and brought these services to the Texas State Library in 1919. She acquired books in earlier forms of braille to better serve this population. She also provided services to African American library patrons despite the segregation practices of the era. Schools serving African American students were regular customers of the Texas State Library, but these patrons were not welcomed by everyone working in the Texas Capitol at the time. West developed a process to serve this group by having their requests prepared in advance and ready for pick-up when they arrived.
West was a strong advocate for maintaining a professional staff and added staff raises to her budget requests. She also stipulated training requirements for library and archives positions so that the legislature did not place well-connected but unqualified individuals in library jobs, as was a common practice by Texas politicians of the day.
After years of battling for higher budgets, more space, and better staff support, West eventually sought work outside of state government. In her wake she left behind a library that was made better by her diligence and care. Most important, she left TSLAC as a library that served everyone, not just a privileged few.
Elizabeth West’s records can be found in several collections:
When faced with damaged or fragile books, conservators have several approaches they may take. A damaged book might be conserved by repairing a binding that is breaking. The covers may need to be replaced with new ones or the text block may have to be resewn. These treatments are intensive and time-consuming. At any given time, libraries and archives will have many books in need of conservation, and not every volume can be considered for full treatment.Another preservation option is to create custom enclosures for books. A common book enclosure is the phase box.
The term “phase box” has been in use for a long time, but it is often a misnomer. “Phase box” indicates that the book will be placed into the enclosure until the time comes when it can be more fully repaired.
However, many books remain in their phase boxes long-term, and that is a good thing, especially for leather bindings. Leather is inherently unstable over time. It becomes brittle and can develop red-rot, the dusty red powder we are familiar with on old leather books. Brittle leather is prone to breaking on the book’s hinge, where it flexes for opening. The leather spine piece, where a book usually has its title, will often break away from the binding when the hinges have failed. These damages can be repaired by replacing the damaged spine with new leather, but the replacement leather will age eventually as well. Nevertheless, leather rebindings and leather repairs are used by conservators. They are appropriate when a book’s binding is of particular artistic or historical significance. Book conservators are trained in historic methods and can repair or replicate leather bindings to restore the original appearance.
To build a phase box, the book’s length, width, and thickness are measured precisely in a measuring device made just for this purpose. Using these dimensions, two lengths of acid-free board are cut and folded to match the book. When the fit is just right, the book will be snug and will not shift inside the box.
There are a number of other protective enclosures used for library and archives collections. A clam-shell box is made much like a book binding and is usually covered in book cloth. These attractive and strong boxes are often made for high-value books. A portfolio with a four-flap enclosure inside can be used for thinner, lighter-weight books.
Phase boxes can be used for more than bound materials. Here at TSLAC, our historic photographs (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, and tintypes) are housed in individual phase boxes within a storage cabinet. The enclosures protect these glass and metal plates from physical damage and limit direct handling.
What about preserving family artifacts?
Protective enclosures are used in libraries and archives, but they are also appropriate for preserving family artifacts such as scrapbooks, family Bibles, and other bound volumes. For family documents that are unbound sheets, like photographs or certificates, another housing system is preferable. Place documents, unfolded whenever possible, into archival paper folders. Don’t overfill them. Place groups of folders into archival boxes. Choose a box that fits the folders well. If the folders are placed vertically and there is extra space in the box, fill it in with wadded-up, acid-free tissue so that folders do not fall over. Boxes and other archival supplies can be purchased from online stores. Look for high-quality, acid-free materials and comparison shop to make sure you are not over-paying for these specialty items.
TSLAC has released a group of custom Zoom backgrounds featuring scenes from the State Library and Archives. They are free to download and may be used by the public.
These 26 new background options include both indoor and outdoor scenes from the Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building in downtown Austin, the State Records Center in Austin, and the Sam Houston Regional Library and Research Center in Liberty, Texas.
Users can choose to virtually “appear” in various locations, including the TSLAC Reference Reading Room, outside the building (in the daytime or at night), or in front of the famous lobby mural depicting scenes and people from Texas history. Also available are scenes from inside the cavernous stacks at the State Records Center, inside and outside views of the Sam Houston Center, and even a historical photo showing how the Zavala Reference Reading Room looked back in the 1960s (Throwback Thursday, anyone?).
With these colorful and interesting custom backgrounds, you can now attend your Zoom meetings from in front of an impressive shelf of books, under the six flags of Texas, or outside near the green trees of Atascosito.
The images are available below. Browse to find the right one for you! Click the image to open the full-size version in a new window, then right click to download to your local device. Use the back arrow on your browser to return to this page.These images are also available at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/freebackgrounds.
You can read more about how to install these or other custom backgrounds on the Zoom website. Please note that older computers may not allow full functionality of Zoom features, including the ability to use custom backgrounds.
TSLAC has been serving patrons and customers across all our locations throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, both remotely and in person. Read more about our current programs and services.
The State Archives’ collections contain thousands of letterpress copybooks. Recently, our digitization team has been scanning copybooks kept by Texas governors and providing access to them in the Texas Digital Archive. The goal of this article is to briefly explore their history, condition problems, and what can be done for them today.
As office recordkeeping practices expanded in the 19th and early 20th centuries, methods were sought to create multiple copies of documents at one time. One of the earliest strategies, invented in 1780, was the letterpress copying method. Not to be confused with letterpress printing, letterpress copying used a piece of equipment called a copy press. Copy presses can still be found in antique shops and are frequently mistaken today for small book presses. Letterpress copying was very common throughout the 19th century. Its use began to decline around 1900 as office workers turned increasingly to typewriters and carbon copy sheets.
To make a copy using a copy press, an individual first wrote on a sheet of paper with a special, water-soluble ink. The paper was placed in the press and covered with a dampened sheet of thin, translucent paper. Then, the press was tightened, creating a partial transfer of the ink from the bottom sheet onto the top sheet. The copied text is then read from the opposite side of the translucent sheet (it appears backwards on the side with the actual impression).
Because the process was so popular, stationers and office supply manufacturers sold pre-bound books filled with translucent copy sheets. The copies were made in the copy press straight into the books. These are what we know today as letterpress copybooks.
Special inks and papers were used to facilitate this process. The inks were often iron gall ink mixed with a humectant like sugar or glycerin to keep the ink wet for a longer time. Dyes were frequently added to make the copied ink more readable.The copying paper was made translucent by using very short paper fibers and occasionally by adding a waxy or oily coating. This reduced the tiny air pockets that naturally make paper appear opaque.
The materials and methods that enabled letterpress copying created a variety of aging difficulties. Iron gall ink is already well known for its ability to “burn” through paper and cause inked areas to drop out completely. Added dyes are unstable and can fade over time, sometimes even without significant light exposure. Humectants like sugar and glycerin can cause the ink to become sticky in moist environments, even years later. Translucent papers made from short paper fibers are inherently fragile and extremely sensitive to moisture. Any water exposure can cause the paper to expand irregularly and dramatically. Waxy or oily coatings may have made the papers highly acidic. These papers are very prone to break, especially in areas where iron gall ink and water exposure have already damaged them. And to further complicate matters, inks and papers were often made from proprietary formulations of ingredients; their details varied among manufacturers and even among batches.
Today, many letterpress copies are so fragile that their content can be lost by simply turning a page. Such damage seems to cry out for major conservation treatment. Unfortunately, logistical issues complicate this approach. Letterpress sheets are bound into books of many hundreds of pages. These books cannot be practically disbound, creating access issues for treatments that involve washing. Further, the sheer number of sheets per volume, and volumes per collection, make treatment prospects daunting. The level of treatment required to address these materials’ severe degradation issues simply does not scale up in any manageable way.
So what can be done for these books? Three broad options are available:
Prioritize: Given the large number of copybooks and often their poor condition, prioritization is key. Focusing on critical topics, people, or years helps to target our most significant resources with finite preservation time.
Treat as possible: The most achievable conservation treatment is basic mending, likely with heat-set or solvent-set tissue to avoid unnecessary water exposure. Conservators have explored a variety of chelating treatments (which help stabilize iron gall ink,) but the inherent difficulty of washing bound sheets makes these treatments impractical at scale. If desired, targeted deacidification can be pursued with a spray such as Bookkeeper.
Digitize: Because there is no satisfactory, scalable conservation treatment, the ultimate solution for letterpress copybooks is digitization. Because of the translucency of the sheets, white paper must be placed beneath each sheet during digitization to improve legibility. Careful handling is essential, and mending may first be necessary to stabilize damaged sheets. Given the time-intensive nature of this work, again, prioritization is key.
Cleveland, Rachel-Ray. 2000 “Selected 18th,19th and 20th Century Iron Gall Ink Formulations Developed in England, France, Germany, and the United States, for use with the Copy Press Process.” Postprints of The Iron Gall Ink Meeting, Newcastle Upon Tyne, England: University of Northumbria, 23-30.
Rhodes, Barbara and William Wells Streeter. 1999. Before
Photocopying: The Art and History of Mechanical Copying. New Castle, DE:
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Titus, Sonja, et al. 2006. “The Copy Press Process: History
and Technology, Part 1.” Restaurator 27 (2): 90-102.
Titus, Sonja, et. al. 2009 “Stabilising Local Areas of Loss
in Iron Gall Copy Documents from the Savigny Estate.” Restaurator 30 (1-2):
Ubbink, K. and R. Partridge. 2003. Preserving Letterpress Copying Books. Canadian Association for Conservation of Cultural Property 28: 38-45.