Standards for the storage of local government records take effect on April 7, 2015. These standards are published as Local Government Bulletin F: Records Storage Standards and are available at this address: https://www.tsl.texas.gov/slrm/recordspubs/lgbullf.html.
These standards establish mandatory minimum storage conditions for permanent records and historic court records, and offer optional enhanced conditions for all local government records. We know there are questions, so we’ll try to answer a few for you now:
Why were these records storage standards developed?
Legal historians were alarmed at the frequency of historical Texas court records’ being lost to theft and poor storage conditions. (Here’s a Houston Chronicle story about an 1858 Gonzales County slave record for sale on eBay). A group of judges and attorneys appealed to the Texas Supreme Court to study the issue, and the Supreme Court responded by ordering the creation of the Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force, which included county and district clerks, attorneys, archivists, a law professor, a judge, and state senator Joan Huffman, among others. The first paragraph of that order reads:
Texas history is housed in boxes stored in courthouses across Texas. In 2008, Hurricane Ike hit Galveston County, damaging more than 600 boxes of court case records in the Galveston County District Clerk’s Office. Many other Texas counties have suffered a loss of court records due to courthouse fires, floods, and theft. Court records, like all paper documents, are also damaged by the ravages of time if they are not properly preserved. The vulnerability of court records in Texas to these threats underscores the need to create a statewide, comprehensive plan to protect and preserve them.
The Task Force spent two years volunteering their time to study the storage conditions of historic court records in Texas. (Here’s a San Antonio Express-News article about the work of the task force.) Based on findings of the task force, House Bill 1559 was proposed and signed into law in 2011. This law prescribed that the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) adopt rules for the retention, storage, and destruction of any court document filed with, otherwise presented to, or produced by a court before January 1, 1951.
Additionally, Local Government Code §203.048 requires TSLAC to adopt rules for the storage of records of permanent value. Therefore, the storage standards were developed to meet the requirements of both statutes.
How were these standards developed?
In 2012 the Texas State Library and Archives Commission formed a task force of its own after receiving numerous comments when the standards were initially published for comment. The Local Government Records Storage Task Force brought together state and local government officials, and representatives of local government organizations who would be most affected by the standards. The Task Force included TSLAC, as well as the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, Texas Conference of Urban Counties, Texas Association of Counties, Texas Historical Commission, County and District Clerks Association of Texas, Texas Municipal League, Texas Court Records Preservation Task Force, and State Representative Sarah Davis.
The Task Force met over the spring and summer of 2012 to develop standards that would protect the state’s most important historic records without placing an unreasonable financial burden on local governments. The standards were published in the fall of 2012 for comment and officially adopted by TSLAC in April 2013.
What records are covered by these standards?
These storage standards only apply to court records prior to 1951 and permanent records. Permanent records are records designated with a permanent retention in the local government retention schedules.
The standards also apply only to records in storage and are not required for records being transported, temporarily housed or displayed, or in active use.
Finally, the standards also only apply to paper records. Storage requirements for local government records stored electronically and on microforms are adopted under other administrative rules found in Bulletin B and Bulletin A, respectively.
Where can I find more information?
We have an archived webinar to help explain these standards. The webinar also includes some tips on how to ensure records protection in a cost-effective manner.