Documenting COVID-19

Like our counterparts across the nation and the world, the government of the State of Alabama is facing a historic challenge as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Alabama Department of Archives and History’s foremost concern at this time is the health and safety of all Alabamians; as such, the ADAH building will be closed to the public with most staff working remotely. Although onsite programming has been suspended, ADAH staff continue to serve the public from a distance, including through the recent introduction of Alabama History@Home (alabamahistoryhome.org).

Over the past few weeks, we have been amazed and inspired by the many state and local government entities meeting this challenge with new resources and creative initiatives intended to support staff members and the public at large. As the state’s government records repository and home to the state history museum, the ADAH wants to ensure that historic records documenting the pandemic and the government’s response are preserved for the future. 

State and local officials can take important steps to preserve the historical record by saving documentation related to the pandemic as it is created. Types of records that agencies should set aside include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Informational materials related to COVID-19 (paper or electronic) such as graphics, posters, guidance, newsletters, etc.
  • Press releases
  • COVID-19 committee/task force meeting minutes
  • Photographs
  • Video recordings of announcements, press conferences, etc. 
  • Administrative files of agency leaders (such as directors and commissioners) 
  • Planning and policy documentation, especially documentation of modifications to services, policies, or future plans
  • Legal opinions and guidance 
  • Important communications and correspondence with staff or external stakeholders, including email messages
  • Any other information that may be historically significant 

At this busy time, we ask that state and local officials simply set aside and save these records. The Records Management Section will work with state and local government agencies at a later time on the long-term preservation of archival records. Staff are available by email to answer questions or help in any way we can. For state and local agencies working to adapt to the new normal and to anyone doing their part to “flatten the curve,” thank you for your dedication. 

New in the ADAH Collections: Alabama Department of Commerce

In August 2018, Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) Records Management and Collections staff worked together to process and permanently transfer several boxes of records from the Alabama Department of Commerce to the ADAH archival holdings.

Downtown Birmingham, Alabama digitized from Commerce’s transmittal. Pictured center is the Regions Center (originally named the “First National-Southern Natural Building” in 1972). The Regions Center is the current home of the Birmingham Business Alliance, the Birmingham region’s economic development organization and a member of the Export Alabama Alliance.

The Department of Commerce has a long history dating back to 1968, a period of economic decline for Alabama’s economy. Governor Albert P. Brewer created the Alabama Program Development Office to recruit new industry to the state. In 1969, this agency merged with the State Planning and Industrial Board, which had existed since 1935, to become the Alabama Development Office (ADO). The State Planning and Industrial Development Board split from ADO in 1979 and reformed as the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA). In 2012, Alabama Act 2012-167 changed ADO’s name to the Alabama Department of Commerce.

Today, the Alabama Department of Commerce (“Commerce”) promotes economic development of Alabama’s business and industrial resources by:

  • Advocating for minority-owned, woman-owned, veteran-owned, and rural small businesses in Alabama
  • Recruiting new businesses and foreign direct investment (FDI) to the state
  • Promoting the state’s exports and helping Alabama businesses establish international trade relationships
  • Maintaining partnerships with economic development coalitions in Europe and Asia

While working with Commerce staff on a revision to their Records Disposition Authority (RDA) approved by the State Records Commission in October 2018, ADAH staff collaborated with Commerce to clean up records stored in the agency’s basement. They determined which records had met their minimum required retention per the RDA and could therefore be destroyed and which records were permanent and could be transferred to the Archives.

Commerce transferred records identified as permanent or potentially permanent to the Archives on a temporary basis for further processing. These records included publications and publicity files such as newsletters, annual reports, press releases, posters, and prints; trade mission files, including itineraries, reports, and mission booklets describing the efforts of small businesses to form trade partnerships abroad; economic development files documenting the establishment of industries in the state, such as the Mercedes Benz manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa County; and various administrative files, including one box of photographs and slides.

Color print entitled “Minerals Map of Alabama” (Map 193) is the base map modified in 1973 by Oscar E. Gilbert from the Geological Survey of Alabama. Text written by Everett Smith, 1983.

At the end of the processing project, ADAH staff formally transmitted sixteen boxes of records and artifacts.

Researchers interested in the Department of Commerce’s archival collections can access these materials by visiting the ADAH Research Room.

Introducing the FY 2019 Annual Report of the ADAH Records Management Section

The Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) Records Management Section recently completed its first published Annual Report of activities. The Fiscal Year 2019 Annual Report gives readers a look into Archival Appraisal/Records Management work and provides key updates from October 2018 to September 2019.

The 19-page report includes highlights from the State and Local Government Records Commission meetings, permanent records transmittal, and records management activities for state and local governments.

State agencies transferred 527 cubic feet of permanent records in FY2019 to the ADAH. Some examples of those transmittals include 18 cubic feet of audio recordings, video, and images of field records from the State Council on the Arts; 7 cubic feet of negatives and photographs from Governor Fob James’ administration, and Department of Mental Health patient admission records from Bryce Hospital in Tuscaloosa dating from 1861 to 1952.

Each year, Records Management Section staff assist agencies by providing free, on-site records-management training. For FY 2019, staff conducted 76 total outreach sessions with 548 attendees and answered 1,386 total inquiries from state and local governments.

Destroying eligible obsolete temporary records is an important component of records management, so that limited resources can be focused on historic permanent and active records. As such, staff reviewed destruction notices covering over 27,000 cubic feet of local government records, while state agencies reported over 28,000 cubic feet of obsolete records destruction for FY 2019.

The report also spotlights the Alabama State Electronic Records Project (ASERP), which concluded in December 2019, and our ongoing work on the long-term preservation of born-digital records, including making several collections available online including Governor Bob Riley Office Files; Governor Bob Riley Photographs; House and Senate Journals; and state agency publications such as annual reports and newsletters.

Records Management Section staff work with state and local agencies to organize, manage, and preserve their records for long-term access. This work is vital to the preservation of government records for the benefit of current and future generations of Alabamians. If you have any questions or are interested in training, please reach out to the Records Management staff.

New in the ADAH Collections: Photograph Negatives of Governor Fob James’ Administration

Photographer Kevin Glackmeyer worked with the Alabama Office of the Governor during the administrations of Governors Jim Folsom, Fob James, and Bob Riley. In July 2019, the Alabama Department of Archives and History received a collection of his photographic negatives documenting Governor Fob James’ second term (1995 – 1999). The negatives capture his inauguration, speeches, appearances, and attended events. They also capture Alabama politicians, including former Lieutenant Governor Lucy Baxley, former Chief Justice Roy Moore, and former Governors Jim Folsom, Don Siegelman, and George Wallace, as well as federal officials such as U.S. Representative John Lewis, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, and President George Bush. Finally, the negatives capture such significant individuals as photographer Spider Martin and Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks and significant moments of the era, such as the first pilgrimage of a congressional delegation to Selma in 1998.

Forrest Hood “Fob” James, Jr. was born in the east Alabama mill town of Lanett on September 15, 1934. James’ father operated a food concession business in the Lanett Cotton Mills, which employed the majority of Lanett’s residents. James attended public schools in Lanett and the neighboring town of West Point, Georgia, until transferring as a sophomore to Baylor School, a private preparatory military academy in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He received an appointment to the United States Naval Academy upon his graduation in 1955 but instead chose to accept a football scholarship to the Auburn Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). James played left halfback for Auburn’s football team and gained All-American status by his senior year in 1955. That same year, he married Bobbie May Mooney of Decatur, Alabama.

After graduating from Auburn in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, James headed north to Montreal, Canada, where he played professional football with the Alouettes for one season. He then served two years as a second lieutenant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Fob and Bobbie James had four sons; their second-born, Greg, had cystic fibrosis. To pay for Greg’s medical bills, James returned to Alabama to work as an engineer with a Montgomery tractor company and then as a construction superintendent at a Mobile road-paving company.

James made a bold career move in 1961 by founding Diversified Products, Inc. in Opelika, not far from his hometown. He imagined replacing cast-iron barbells, which would rust and ruin floors, with concrete coated in “Orbatron” plastic. The company grew tremendously over the next fifteen years and began manufacturing farm, industry, and trucking equipment in addition to fitness equipment. By the time the company merged with the Liggett Group in 1977, its sales amounted to about one billion dollars annually. During this period of success, however, James also experienced loss; his son, Greg, passed away from cystic fibrosis at age eight in 1967.

In the 1970s, James served as president of the Alabama Citizens for Transportation Committee and briefly as a member of the State Republican Executive Committee. At the time, Democrats dominated Alabama politics; Alabama had not elected a Republican governor in nearly a century. James switched from the Republican to the Democratic party before running for governor in 1978. He defeated Attorney General Bill Baxley in the primary election and Cullman County Probate Judge Guy Hunt in the general election. 

In keeping with his campaign theme – a “New Beginning” for Alabamians – James’ filled a vacancy in the Alabama Supreme Court by appointing Oscar W. Adams, who then became the first African American elected to statewide constitutional office in Alabama. James’ appointed director of the Department of Pensions and Security, Gary Cooper, was the first African American to head a major state agency in Alabama in over a century. During his first term, James fought for improvements to the state’s K-12 education, mental health system, prisons, Medicaid, and highways. In 1981, he established the Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research Center at UAB in honor of his son.

Unfortunately, James faced economic problems resulting from the recession of the late 1970s. He consolidated state agencies and instituted a hiring freeze to reduce state spending by ten percent. Some initiatives of his first administration were not successful. Both his proposal to draft a new state constitution and his proposal to grant home rule to counties and cities were rejected by the legislature. He persuaded the legislature to enact twenty anti-crime bills in 1982, but because he failed to deliver them to the Secretary of State within the required ten-day period, the bills never became law. In the same year, James enacted a bill that encouraged voluntary prayer in public schools. The United States Supreme Court declared this bill unconstitutional in the 1985 case Wallace v. Jaffree. James chose not to run again for governor in 1982, but ran in 1986 and 1990, only to be defeated in both primaries.

After his first term as governor, semi-retired Fob James led a varied business career. He was part owner of Orange Beach Marina, the CEO of Coastal Erosion Control, Inc., and the CEO of Escambia County Environmental Corporation.

Reflecting a transition from Democratic to Republican dominance in Alabama politics, James switched political parties for the second time to run for governor as a Republican in 1994. His second term mirrored his first: he appointed Aubrey Miller, an African American woman, as director of the Tourism Department and continued to focus on K-12 education reform. In 1995, the James Educational Foundation Act required some local schools to raise property taxes to meet a minimum amount and allowed the state superintendent of education to assume control of schools which did not meet standardized test standards. Some Alabamians were frustrated with James’ lack of support for colleges and universities, his lack of focus on economic development, and his battles with the federal government on issues surrounding the separation of church and state. He was defeated in his run for a third term by Democrat Don Siegelman in 1998.

Today, Fob James resides in Alabama with his wife Bobbie. He has ten grandchildren.

To view photograph negatives and other records from Governor James’ second term, visit the ADAH Research Room

Sources:

“Alabama Governors: Forrest Hood (Fob) James, Jr.” Alabama Department of Archives and History. https://archives.alabama.gov/govs_list/g_james.html.

“Forrest Hood ‘Fob’ James, Jr.” Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. https://www.ashof.org/inductees/fob-james/.

Jenkins, Ray. “The New Governor of Alabama.” The New York Times, 16 January 1979. https://www.nytimes.com/1979/01/16/archives/the-new-governor-of-alabama-forrest-hood-james-jr-man-in-the-news-a.html.

Stewart, William H. “Forrest ‘Fob’ James Jr. (1979-83, 1995-99).” Encyclopedia of Alabama. http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1469.

A Detailed Guide to the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process

We spent the previous two weeks discussing the state agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) revision process:

Once you have contacted Records Management staff, held an introductory meeting, and received a copy of the currently approved RDA in Microsoft Word from Records Management staff, you are ready to begin revising.

The Microsoft Word copy of the RDA will contain notations indicating which sections may be revised and which sections contain standardized, inalterable language.

Edit the document using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature.

The RDA contains three main sections. Read below for a detailed guide to revising each section.  

Section 1: Functional and Organizational Analysis

This section assesses the types of work your agency performs in the regular course of business.

Historical Context

This subsection should include an in-depth contextual description of the events leading to the agency’s establishment and the agency’s history, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Origin and development of the profession in the state of Alabama
  • Specific legislation establishing the agency
  • Agency composition and organization over time, if different than at present
  • Specific executive orders, state legislation, and/or federal legislation affecting the agency, e.g. increasing or decreasing the scope of the agency’s work, restructuring the agency, etc.
  • Explanatory notes which define concepts or terms specific to the field/industry that the general public may not understand

Agency Organization

This subsection derives from the Code of Alabama 1975 and legislation. It should describe the agency’s current organization, including the structure of its board or executive branch, qualifications to serve, appointment procedures, meeting procedures, and term limits. This section also provides a brief overview of the agency’s departmental branches.

Agency Functions and Subfunctions

The agency function designation comes from a standard set of government functions and may not be altered.

The agency subfunctions may be revised to reflect the agency’s added or removed tasks. Subfunctions should be simple and concise. Records Management staff can help you articulate your agency’s subfunctions using a controlled vocabulary.

Common subfunctions include:

  • Educating
  • Enforcing
  • Investigating Complaints & Violations
  • Licensing
  • Promoting Public Awareness
  • Promulgating Rules & Regulations
  • Providing Services

Note: “Administering Internal Operations” is common to every RDA and includes records that all agencies produce. This subsection should not be altered.

Each subfunction title should be followed by a thorough description of the subfunction. These descriptions may include legislation that assigns or authorizes the agency to engage in a subfunction, the activities encompassed by the subfunction, and the procedures followed in pursuance of the subfunction. These descriptions provide context for Section 2, which describes the record types within each subfunction.

Section 2: Records Appraisal

This section consists of descriptions of all permanent records and select temporary records.

Temporary records should be listed and described if they require explanation in order to be understood clearly by agency staff and State Records Commissioners.

The section is divided into (1) temporary records descriptions, (2) permanent records descriptions, and (3) the permanent record list. Records are ordered by subfunction in the same order in which they appear in Section 3.

Descriptions may include the following, if appropriate:

  • Scope of materials included in the record series
  • Format of record series

Additionally, descriptions must include the following:

  • Description of record series
  • Retention/disposition requirement
  • For temporary records, a justification for the retention/disposition requirement
  • For permanent records, an explanation of how/why the record series is deemed historically significant, citing statute if appropriate

Note: ADAH staff will provide the “Bibliographic Titles” appearing at the end of each permanent record description.

If your agency no longer produces a record series in the RDA, the series should be listed in a subsection entitled “Records No Longer Created” so that the Commission knows why they are no longer present. 

The “Permanent Records List” at the end of Section 2 is a one-page list of all the permanent records created by the agency. Records are ordered by subfunction in the same order in which they appear in Section 3. Asterisks indicate permanent records that the agency will maintain on-site.

Many currently approved RDAs include the subsection “Agency Recordkeeping System” within Section 2. This subsection describes the agency’s paper and electronic filing practices. While this information is still necessary, Records Management staff will withdraw this subsection into a separate but joint document in order to protect the agency’s security and assets. The “Agency Recordkeeping System” will not be published online.

Section 3: Records Disposition Authority

This section provides retention periods for every record series, whether temporary or permanent. Permanent series are in all caps.

The retention requirement for each temporary record series depends on a variety of factors, including legislative and audit requirements and the record series’ foreseeable administrative and historical value. Records Management staff can provide guidance on a reasonable retention requirement.

Common language for temporary record retention requirements includes:

  • Retain [x] years.
  • Retain[x] years after [y]. 
  • Retain [x] years after the end of the fiscal year in which [y].
  • Retain [x] years after audit.
  • Retain until superseded.

“Explanation of Records Requirements” and “Requirements and Recommendations for Implementing the RDA” are both standard to all RDAs.

See “An Overview of the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process” for next steps:

  • Return RDA Working Draft to Records Management Staff
  • Agency Leadership Reviews Final Draft
  • The State Records Commission Approves the RDA Revision

Contact Us

The state agency RDA is a complex document. Please feel free to reach out to Records Management staff with any questions at any point during the revision process using the contact information below:

An Overview of the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process

Previously, we discussed how to determine if your state agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) needs revising:

Many state agency RDAs have not been revised since the late 1990s or early 2000s. They often lack key components and may no longer be consistent with records law and/or best practice. Records Management staff view RDA revision as an opportunity to conduct a holistic review of your currently approved RDA and create an updated document that better serves your agency.

Depending on your agency’s size and the state of its RDA, revision requires a considerable time commitment on the part of both agency staff and Records Management staff.

Read below for an overview of what to expect during the RDA revision process.

Agency Contacts the ADAH Records Management Staff

Agencies seeking an RDA revision should contact Records Management staff to schedule an in-person introductory meeting or conference call. This meeting/call will introduce the parties involved and help define the scope of the RDA revision before beginning work on either end. Please be mindful that due to the time required to revise an RDA and the high demand for revisions, Records Management staff may be unable to undertake your agency’s revision immediately.

Note: Your agency will not be placed on the schedule to present an RDA revision until you contact Records Management staff.

Contact one of the following staff members to discuss RDA revision:

Agency Uses “Track Changes” to Revise a Working RDA

Agencies with more than twenty employees are strongly encouraged to work on the revision by committee.

Records Management staff will send your agency representative(s) a copy of the currently approved RDA in Microsoft Word. The Microsoft Word copy of the RDA will contain notations indicating which sections may be revised and which sections contain standardized, inalterable language. Records Management staff will describe in detail what agency commentary is needed depending on the revision scope. Agency representative(s) will edit the document using Microsoft Word’s “Track Changes” feature.

Agency Returns RDA Working Draft to Records Management Staff

Once you return the edited Microsoft Word copy of the RDA, Records Management staff will independently research trends, best practices, and developments in your agency’s field or industry to supplement suggested revisions.

Agency Leadership Reviews Final Draft

Records Management staff will provide a timeline for your agency’s leadership to conduct a final review of the revised RDA and will work collaboratively to produce a final draft is satisfactory to all parties.

The ADAH Director and State Records Commission chairman, Mr. Steve Murray, will review the final draft in advance of the State Records Commission meeting.

The State Records Commission Approves the RDA Revision

Records Management staff will present the RDA revision to the State Records Commission. While not required, agency representative(s) are requested to attend the meeting to clarify any questions which Commissioners may ask.

The Commission meets twice a year on the fourth Wednesday of April and October. Meetings are planned up to one and a half years in advance and cannot be rescheduled.

Agency Leadership and State Records Commission Chairman Sign the RDA

Following approval by the State Records Commission, both Mr. Steve Murray and the designated agency representative (usually a director or commissioner) must sign the RDA on its signature page.

The agency will retain one copy of a signed RDA on file, while the ADAH will retain another signed copy. The new RDA will be made available on the ADAH website. 

Agency Uses the Approved RDA

The agency uses the approved RDA to manage information, preserve permanent records, and dispose of temporary records that have met their designated retention requirements.

Agency officials may destroy records after satisfying the retention requirements set forth in the RDA, presuming no litigation or other hold is placed upon the records. They must document the destruction of both paper and electronic records.

Each state agency is required to submit an Annual RDA Implementation Report to the ADAH every year on January 15 for the previous fiscal year documenting records management, records destruction activities, and permanent records activities.

Coming Up

Stay tuned to the For the Record blog for a third and final post on the state agency RDA revision process:

  • A Detailed Guide to the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process

“Help – This RDA is Outdated!”: How to Determine if Your State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Needs Revision

Records and recordkeeping practices change naturally over time as state agencies evolve. Records Disposition Authorities, or RDAs, require regular revision to accurately reflect the records that your agency creates and the retention requirements for those records.

RDAs can require revision for various reasons. Below are some of the most common reasons: 

(1) New state and/or federal laws have increased the scope of your agency’s work. As a result, your agency creates new records which are not described in the RDA. Note: Records not currently described in the RDA are ineligible for records destruction.

(2) New state and/or federal laws have modified the required minimum retention of certain record series in the RDA.

(3) The agency was restructured, and divisions were transferred from another state agency. New records are therefore being created which are not described in the RDA.

(4) The agency was restructured, and divisions were transferred to another state agency. Records presently described in the RDA are no longer created by your agency.

RDA revisions are not required for changes to the agency’s organization or leadership that do not affect the agency’s functions. Examples of changes not meriting RDA revision include divisional restructuring that does not affect the agency’s functions, or a change in agency director.

Contact the ADAH Records Management Staff

Agencies seeking an RDA revision should contact Records Management staff to schedule an in-person introductory meeting or conference call. This meeting/call will introduce the parties involved and help define the scope of the RDA revision before beginning work on either end. Please be mindful that due to the time required to revise an RDA and the high demand for revisions, Records Management staff may be unable to undertake your agency’s revision immediately.

Contact one of the following staff members to discuss RDA revision:

Coming Up

Stay tuned to the For the Record blog for two upcoming posts on the state agency RDA revision process:

  • An Overview of the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process
  • A Detailed Guide to the State Agency Records Disposition Authority (RDA) Revision Process