Conversation with TSLAC Archivist About Meeting Minutes

Bound Railroad Commission Minutes from the early 20th Century

Minutes are produced by every local government and state agency in Texas. They are afforded the most enduring retention period of PERMANENT for both Local Governments and State Agencies. In the Records Retention Schedule (RRS) for state agencies, minutes are given the distinct honor of being the only series on the schedule that requires both permanent retention by the agency and transfer to the State Archives. For clarification, local governments do not send meeting minutes to the State Archives.

What makes minutes so special? With The Open Meetings Act (Texas Government Code – GOV’T § 551.021.) the Texas Legislature identified minutes as a key record in helping make governmental decision-making accessible to the public. The Archives and Information Services (ARIS) division of The Texas State Library is responsible for providing public access and a final home for certain state agency records, including minutes.  I recently sat down with TSLAC processing Archivist Anna Reznik to talk about this series.

What are your responsibilities in the Archives and Information Services (ARIS) Division of TSLAC?

Minutes after they have been processed by an archivist

Anna Reznik: I’m an archivist who appraises, processes, describes, and provides reference to state government records. At its root, my work involves figuring out what something is and translating that information into something others can use to determine if materials meet one’s needs. I consider what something is, why it was created, how it is organized (if at all), what additional uses it has, and how to share my knowledge with someone who has not seen the materials. The resulting product is a finding aid, encoded using an XML standard named EAD (Encoded Archival Description).

My daily activities are largely related to these duties. Like the other archivists in ARIS, I wear many hats – for me this includes working with meeting minutes and the supporting documentation created by various state agencies. In theory, I am working on a minutes-related duty 10% of the time.

What is important about minutes from an archival perspective?

School for the Blind minutes in Braille

AR: Minutes succinctly document the who, what, when, and why. They give context and provide leads on what records to search next. Information created and maintained by government bodies may become fragmented and documented in many ways overtime. Minutes centralize this information and save time when searching for context.

Furthermore, each agency’s minutes (and meeting supporting documentation) reflect the agency’s function and structure. For example, the State Archives holds a few Texas School for the Blind minutes in Braille form. Some government bodies, such as the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, have several advisory boards creating minutes in addition to its Commission. Additionally, some agencies have related functions and occasionally meet in joint sessions to plan and collaborate. One can really get a sense of a government body by the minutes they create.

How often do you receive minutes from state agencies?

AR: The short answer is “it depends.” Not surprisingly, government bodies that meet every month create more minutes than a body that meets a handful times a year. Some agencies send minutes as soon as they are approved, so there are generally a handful of minutes in my inbox at a given time.  Other agencies like to send minutes (and meeting supporting documentation) at the end/beginning of the fiscal year. Another peak time is the end/beginning of the calendar year.

What happens to the minutes after they are received by ARIS?

AR: The oversimplification is we (generally me) receive the minutes, then they are tracked internally and prepared for long-term storage. A core part of my duties is to create inventories in the form of a finding aid, so others can find these minutes. As there is a backlog of uninventoried minutes, I apply an informal criterion to determine priorities. A key factor is the completeness of State Archives’ holdings; this may trigger me to contact the agency to provide copies of the minutes to fill gaps. There is often a lag in revising older inventories, but I am more than happy to provide this information upon request.

See Anna’s companion piece to this post on ARIS’s Out of the Stacks blog.

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  1. Pingback: Managing the Minutes | Out of the Stacks

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