Who’s on First?


Guest post by Michael Shea, Manager, Records Center Services

Author: Michael Shea

State Employee#1: “I’m sending these records to the Archives.”

State Employee#2: “The Records Center or the Archives?”

State Employee#1: “Yes.”

State Employee#2: “Well, which one – are you sending the records to the Records Center or the Archives?”

State Employee#1: “Right…them, those people at the Archives in the Records Center.”

State Employee#2: “Is it Friday yet?”

I’m pretty sure this conversation has happened more than once…today. At the Records Center, we have accepted “Archives” as a synonym for “Records Center” most of the time. As in “We’re sending these records over to you at the Archives.” However, there is an actual distinction. The Archives and Information Services (ARIS) Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC)  is a unit of the same agency but they do some different work than we do at the Records Center.  According to their landing page on the TSLAC website: “The Texas State Archives preserves and documents the heritage and culture of Texas by identifying, collecting, and making available for research the permanently valuable official records of Texas government, as well as other significant historical resources.” https://www.tsl.texas.gov/arc/index.html

However, we do have work that intersects with the State Archives. When you send your records to the State Records Center, we make sure they are classified as a record series on an approved retention schedule on file with our division at TSLAC (SLRM). That document tells us when the records are eligible for disposal. Now, to the average Joe on the street “disposal” means “throw away” but in Records land disposal is not necessarily the final resting place of your records.  Undead Zombie records?  Angel in heaven records?   No, they are records that have been deemed to have archival value, and therefore collected, maintained and preserved by the State Archives. Basically records that are coded for either Archival Holdings (AH) or Archival Review (AR) as their method of disposal may have life at the Archives after “death” at your agency (note: on a state agency retention schedule those codes would be Archival Transfer (A) or Archival Review (R), respectively). So, yes – undead zombie records do exist (sort of). Your accounts payable ledger will likely not fit under this designation and will die a gruesome and tragic death by shredder teeth and pulping “things” (Whatever it is that pulps paper – I know I can look these things up).  Those ledgers will be pulled aside, pointed at, chided, kicked, verified, palletized, vulcanized, pulverized, shredded, terminated with extreme prejudice and certified d.o.a. (Some of these are true).

So, when disposition time arrives, your records may have a chance to survive. However, the catch is, that those records will no longer be yours. The records are actually transferred to the possession of the State Archives (NOT SLRM!). The Archives staff then organizes, describes and presents those records forever. If someone decided they wanted to see those records, they would contact the State Archives. If a record series is categorized as “Archival Review” the Archives usually requests a few files or boxes from a records set to see (i.e. do research) if that particular batch of records has archival value. While the Archives assess a records series the records are still the property of the owning agency until the Archives makes an official decision on the fate of the records.

So now there should be no issues understanding the difference between the State Records Center and the State Archives… right? TSLAC oversees the State Records Center AND the State Archives. SLRM gets to destroy things and ARIS keeps things. That’s one of the reasons why I like working at the Records Center. I guess it goes back to fond memories of when I was a toddler who destroyed random sand castles at the beach.  Don’t tell anyone, but I still destroy sand castles when nobody’s looking.

4 thoughts on “Who’s on First?

  1. I’ve noticed that “archive” is the term the rest of the world uses for an SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem):

    “Where are the reports from 2010?”

    “I don’t know, I archived them last month.”


  2. Thank you for your humor and keen observations. Our experience at our agency is that most staff refer to records storage as “archived” particularly staff associated with IT-related duties. Arrrg. But we consistently remind them of the differences (sounding like a broken record – er, LP for those who are much younger than me) in training. It’s an on-going battle of semantics. Glad to know we’re not alone.

  3. I’m with Kay,
    I love reading your articles Michael. The humor keeps my attention and I do end up learning something!

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