The Archival Back Burner: Manuscript Collections and the National Archives

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [Laurentian University]On: 10 October 2014, At: 00:39Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Journal of Archival OrganizationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:</p><p>The Archival Back Burner: Manuscript Collections andthe National ArchivesAaron D. Purcell MA and MLS aa University Archivist, University of Tennessee, Special Collections Library , 1401Cumberland Avenue, Knoxville, TN, 37996 E-mail:Published online: 04 Oct 2008.</p><p>To cite this article: Aaron D. Purcell MA and MLS (2005) The Archival Back Burner: Manuscript Collections and the NationalArchives, Journal of Archival Organization, 2:4, 53-66, DOI: 10.1300/J201v02n04_04</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, andare not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon andshould be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable forany losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use ofthe Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Archival Back Burner:Manuscript Collections</p><p>and the National Archives</p><p>Aaron D. Purcell</p><p>ABSTRACT. Greater access to archival materials remains a significantchallenge to archivists, librarians, and researchers. In addition to officialrecords documenting governmental activities and agencies, the NationalArchives and Records Administration (NARA) has significant collec-tions of donated personal papers. Some are processed, some are in thebacklog, but nearly all of the non-Presidential Library manuscript col-lections are inaccessible. This essay reviews the history and some of thecontents of the former Record Group 200: Records of the National Ar-chives Gift Collection, as an example of the importance of hidden materialat NARA. After a contextual history of the agency and the creation of thisforgotten record group, this article describes ten manuscript collectionsfrom the former RG 200 to demonstrate not only the research potential ofeach but show the varied nature of these materials. This study reveals theimportance of access, description, and reevaluation when archivists dealwith back burner collections. [Article copies available for a fee from TheHaworth Document Delivery Service: 1-800-HAWORTH. E-mail address: Website: 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.]</p><p>KEYWORDS. Archival description, archival history, National Archivesand Records Administration, NARA, gifts and donations, Archivists ofthe United States, James B. Rhoads, Ernst Posner, Victor Gondos, Jr.</p><p>Aaron D. Purcell, MA, MLS, is Assistant Professor and University Archivist, Spe-cial Collections Library, 1401 Cumberland Avenue, University of Tennessee, Knox-ville, TN 37996 (E-mail:</p><p>Journal of Archival Organization, Vol. 2(4) 2004Available online at 2004 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.</p><p>Digital Object Identifier: 10.1300/J201v02n04_04 53</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Lau</p><p>rent</p><p>ian </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 0</p><p>0:39</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>INTRODUCTION</p><p>Access to archival materials continues to rank as the highest demandfor researchers and archivists alike. Digital projects with online facsimi-les of archival materials have alleviated some of the push for greater ac-cess, but there is an increasing call to venture deeper into unprocessedbacklogs. A September 2003 conference hosted by the Association ofResearch Libraries (ARL) called Exposing Hidden Collections, fo-cused on the issue of the backlog. An ARL white paper, written by aspecial ARL taskforce, covered the barriers of access to materials foundin the backlogs of nearly every Special Collections Library or manu-scripts department. Smoldering backlogs and shifting processing priori-ties were not new problems for the archivists in attendance, but therewere near gasps from many of the library directors and administrators inthe audience unaware of the untapped treasure troves. It seems that inthe twenty-first century, the backlog is once again becoming the centerof attention for archivists, librarians, and researchers; and where betterto start looking, than in the backlog at the National Archives RecordsAdministration (NARA).</p><p>A common assumption of both archivists and researchers is that theNational Archives only collects records documenting governmental ac-tivities and agencies. Apart from the various personal collections atNARAs Presidential libraries, most interested parties conclude that theorganization does not have or accept what some archivists classify asmanuscript collections. However, since 1934, NARA has acceptedgifts from private sources deemed appropriate for retention by the gov-ernment.</p><p>Beginning in the 1930s, NARA archivists separated these donatedmaterials into four record groups, numbers 189, 200, 401, and 421.The largest of the four accumulations was record group 200 (RG 200),Records of the National Archives Gift Collection, which as of themid-1980s contained over 450 linear feet of personal papers and histori-cal manuscripts. In addition to the textual holdings, RG 200 featuredcartographic records, still and motion pictures, and sound recordings.The record group was listed in NARA archival guides, but detailed find-ing aids for the collections were never produced.1</p><p>This essay outlines the history and some of the contents of the formerRG 200, Records of the National Archives Gift Collection, as an exam-ple of the importance of backlog material at NARA. After a contextualhistory of the agency and the creation of this forgotten record group, thisessay describes ten manuscript collections from RG 200 to demonstrate</p><p>54 JOURNAL OF ARCHIVAL ORGANIZATION</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Lau</p><p>rent</p><p>ian </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 0</p><p>0:39</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>not only the research potential of each but show the varied nature ofthese materials. As sources, the paper will be based on memos, corre-spondence, drafts of unpublished finding aids, transaction dossiers, andother materials from NARAs College Park facility. This study revealsthe importance of fully describing these valuable materials and the needto make these collections more accessible and available to researchers.</p><p>GROWTH OF THE NATIONAL ARCHIVESIN THE UNITED STATES</p><p>The move toward the scientific preservation and administration ofthe archives of the United States government started even before theorganization of the country itself. In 1774, the First Continental Con-gress took the necessary steps to preserve the records of its deliberationsand actions. However, as the Congress designated no permanent storagespace for its archives, the materials were moved from city to city, untilthe 1800 relocation of the nations capital to Washington, DC. But eventhen, the fledgling government did not appropriate space or funds for abuilding to house the nations rapidly growing archives. Fires were thebiggest preservation concern of the day so protection of these materialswas top priority. In 1810, Congress passed the first National ArchivesAct which allowed for the construction of a fireproof structure west ofthe White House to house public papers and records of the UnitedStates, belonging to, or in the custody of the state, war, or navy depart-ment.2</p><p>Following the Civil War, the growing bulk of government archiveshad overwhelmed the small storage facility. Congress refused to passanother archives bill, but a movement for a hall of records to housethese materials had gained momentum. Professional groups such as theAmerican Historical Association (AHA) also pushed for better accessto federal records. As president of the AHA, in 1906, historian J. Frank-lin Jameson took up the fight to establish a National Archives buildingand a subsequent agency to care for the voluminous and critical recordsof the government.3</p><p>In 1913, Congress authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to designplans and specifications for a fireproof National Archives building, butthe outbreak of war in Europe prevented the fruition of this effort. An-other decade of delayed hopes followed, as government records accu-mulated at an accelerated rate and officials searched for space to housetheir important files and documents. By the mid-1920s, Congress fi-</p><p>Aaron D. Purcell 55</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Lau</p><p>rent</p><p>ian </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 0</p><p>0:39</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>nally appropriated funds for a National Archives Building that would bepart of the Federal Triangle in downtown Washington, DC. In February1933, President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone for the structureand construction of the building, designed by eminent architect JohnRussell Pope, began.4</p><p>While construction on the new building progressed, the country andfederal government underwent massive changes. Newly elected Presi-dent Franklin D. Roosevelt ushered in a series of reforms to combat thesocial and economic effects of a nearly worldwide depression. As partof his New Deal to Americans, Roosevelt pushed Congress to createnew government agencies to battle the onslaught of domestic problems.With dual purposes in mind, the President created a National Archivesagency to oversee the existing archives of the government and to pre-serve the records of the newly created agencies. On June 19, 1934, afterdecades of failed archives bills and proposals, Congress establishedthe National Archives of the United States Government to preserve thehistorical documents of the then depression-laden country. The orga-nization was an independent agency of the federal government andCongress authorized the archivists to inspect and retain all valuable fed-eral records, whether executive, legislative, or judicial. Later that year,Roosevelt appointed Robert D. W. Conner of North Carolina as the firstArchivist of the United States.5</p><p>By the end of 1934, the statutory bases for the National Archives hadbeen laid, and the building to house the new agency was taking shape inthe heart of the nations capital. Even though the organization was off toa strong start, the budding agency inherited an awesome backlog ofabout three million feet of federal records, with an expected growth rateof more than 180,000 feet annually. Records began to arrive at thebuilding as early as December 1935 and the skeleton staff quickly deter-mined standards of appraisal, disposition, and organization. By the endof the decade, the National Archives had the custody of seventy-twoagencies with over 300,000 feet of textual records.6</p><p>Besides being overwhelmed by records, underfunded, and often un-derstaffed, the National Archives underwent even more changes im-mediately following World War II. With a flood of new governmentmaterials, archivists such as Theodore R. Schellenberg developed the-ories of records management and appraisal to deal with the masses offederal records. Another important development was Schellenbergsconcept of the record group which represented a body of organization-ally and functionally related records established with particular regard</p><p>56 JOURNAL OF ARCHIVAL ORGANIZATION</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Lau</p><p>rent</p><p>ian </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 0</p><p>0:39</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>for the administrative history, complexity, and volume of the records ofan agency.7</p><p>By the late 1940s, the government was bursting at the seams with rec-ords, many of which should have been scheduled for destruction. Spacein the National Archives building and its nearby storage facilities wasnearly exhausted yet the agency could do little to slow down the flood ofpaper. As part of a major governmental reorganization, in 1949, Con-gress created the General Services Administration (GSA). This multi-faceted agency supervised the implementation of records managementtechniques throughout federal agencies and subsequently absorbed theNational Archives (to be renamed the National Archives Records Ser-vice) as part of its organizational structure.8</p><p>For the next thirty years the pseudo-agency struggled with GSA,managing an overabundance of government records, and the chal-lenges of maintaining regional records centers and the Presidential Li-brary system. By the late 1970s the National Archives moved towardachieving its independence from GSA, and in 1985, the agency got itswish and once again became an independent government agency. Asone of the first actions of freedom, the renamed National Archives andRecords Administration (NARA) petitioned Congress for a new mod-ern facility to house the plethora of government records. After consider-able lobbying, in 1993 NARA opened a new facility in College Park,Maryland to serve as their major research facility and records storagecenter.9</p><p>Today, NARA deals with problems of electronic records and agingor advancing technologies, as well as unresolved issues inherited fromthe past fifty-five years of existence. In 1997, NARA released a strate-gic plan for the future. In this ambitious report NARA announced thatits purposes were to ensure, for the citizen, public servant, President,and courts, ready access to essential evidence, and to house the recordsof the United States government. Although the plan outlines specifi-cally what NARA considers a record, other materials clearly not re-lating to the operations of the federal government have been acceptedand retained.10</p><p>GIFTS TO NARA AND RG 200</p><p>As the legal backbone for these materials, the 1934 National Ar-chives Act authorized the acceptance of gifts if they related to and illus-trated historical activities of the United States. This definition was</p><p>Aaron D. Purcell 57</p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Lau</p><p>rent</p><p>ian </p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity] </p><p>at 0</p><p>0:39</p><p> 10 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>expanded with the Federal Propert...</p></li></ul>