Meet the Staff Feature: Devon Henschel

For the Record’s “Meet the Staff” feature is an opportunity for our archivists to connect directly with the community which we serve.

Name: Devon Henschel

Title: Records Management Archivist

Specialties: Local government records management and training

How did you end up working at the Alabama Department of Archives and History?

I received my undergraduate degree in Anthropology, with a concentration in Museum Studies, from the University of Alabama. Despite my degree being in Anthropology, most of my work experience is with libraries, both public and academic. Many of the skills I developed in my library positions, especially my attention to detail and ability to walk patrons through obscure or complicated processes they don’t have to deal with every day, have been a great benefit in my current work at the ADAH. The ADAH was already on my radar as a great historical resource in the state, and this job proved to be great opportunity to combine my interests and experience to help create and preserve what will become the historical record, while putting to use the detail-oriented mindset I’ve fostered in the library world.

What is your role?

I work primarily with local governments and the records they create. In the future, I will be training public officials, especially local agencies, on managing their records – how to organize, store, and permanently preserve permanent records or eventually dispose of temporary records in accordance with the Record Disposition Authority (RDA) and with destruction notices. Though there are only fifteen local RDAs, they are organized by type so that each one covers a multitude of individual agencies. Think about how many schools there are in Alabama – the RDA for Boards of Education applies to all of them. The same concept applies to the RDAs for Municipalities, governing local governments, and to Law Enforcement Agencies, governing local police departments and county sheriff’s offices. Those fifteen local RDAs keep me busy!

What is something people don’t know about the Records Management Section?

Just how much we deal with! Many people don’t think about how many records government agencies produce in a given year. We’re here to help them wade through all of it, armed with an RDA. As support staff for the State Records Commission and Local Government Records Commission, we are responsible for creating and revising these RDAs in cooperation with agencies, ultimately outlining what records need to be kept and for how long. Right now, our section works with everyone from large state agencies like the Office of Information Technology, to small state agencies like the Multiple Needs Child Office, to local agencies such as the Lakeview Fire Protection District, all while keeping in the back of our minds that we’ll need to create new RDAs with new agencies like the Bicentennial Commission. There’s something new every day, and I love the variety.

For people who don’t think about their records every day, why is records management important?

Many employees – and especially state employees – produce and accumulate an enormous amount of records. These might range from historically significant documents, such as meeting minutes, to less important records, like potluck fliers and the internet printouts shoved in a drawer. Some records need to be kept permanently to show the work agencies do, but most records can be disposed of in a short period of time. Many records don’t need to be kept longer than a day, like the ubiquitous “donuts in the break room” email. Implementing a records management system and a plan to dispose of what you don’t need cuts down on the records clutter – both paper and electronic – so that day-to-day operations can run more smoothly. Luckily, we’re here to help!

What are your hobbies outside of work?

In the past few years, I’ve really gotten into cooking and baking, and I’m always on the lookout for new desserts and breads I can test out in my stand mixer. Beyond that, I love embroidering, discovering new walking and hiking trails, and piecing together jigsaw puzzles.

State Agency Publications Now Live on Preservica

State agency publications premiered in the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s Electronic Records Collections on October 1, 2019. This site provides access to born-digital records through Preservica, a cloud-based service that ensures the long-term preservation of electronic file formats. The new collections include full-text publications produced electronically by Alabama state agencies. These collections are expected to grow as the Alabama Department of Archives and History continues to receive state publications.

The new collections, organized by state agency, include annual reports, newsletters, and bulletins. Annual reports may be informational, promotional, and/or statistical in nature. Many agencies issue reports on an annual or periodic basis to provide important information to the public or to their key audience. Some agencies are required by law to submit written reports to the governor each calendar or fiscal year. Annual reports typically describe the agency’s yearly activities, ongoing programs, accomplishments, announcements, challenges, and priorities. They may provide statistics, a valuable resource for future researchers. The annual reports of agencies which engage in licensing activities may contain rosters of licensed facilities or individuals. Newsletters and bulletins, on the other hand, contain news about the agency or industry and are regularly sent to subscribers. All of these state publications document critical activities, updates, industry developments, and interaction with the public. They provide a “snapshot in time” of agencies and therefore form a unique historical resource.

Some state publications document how agencies responded to key events in the state. Following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Alabama Department of Public Health’s (ADPH) October 2010 newsletter described how the ADPH responded to the crisis. In the first few weeks, ADPH staff worked in Mobile to collect health data and speak with the public and journalists about the health effects of the oil spill. They worked with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to collect data and test samples, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a survey of physical and mental health among residents in coastal areas. To study the potential long-term effects of the spill and help Alabama recover from the disaster, the ADPH joined two major efforts: (1) they launched a five-year study of fish and seafood products alongside the ADCNR in order to promote the consumption of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, and (2) they made a plan with ADEM and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine when swimming advisories could be lifted by sampling water and sand. These efforts were chronicled in ensuing ADPH newsletters.

The collections include state publications on a wide variety of topics, including the following:

Healthcare

State agencies such as the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) help to promote quality medical services for Alabama citizens. Other agencies, such as the Alabama Board of Nursing (ABN) and Alabama State Board of Chiropractic Examiners (ASBCE), regulate healthcare practitioners.

Professional licensing

Many agencies maintain licensing authority over professionals in their respective disciplines. Examples include the Home Builders Licensure Board, the Alabama State Board of Public Accountancy, and the Alabama Real Estate Appraisers Board.

Law enforcement and public safety

State agencies such as the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) and the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) help to ensure public safety in the state by educating citizens, enforcing laws, investigating crimes, and incarcerating criminals.

Social issues

Some state agencies advocate for specific groups of people living in Alabama. The Alabama Indian Affairs Commission (AIAC) and the Alabama Department of Veterans Affairs (ADVA), for example, provide meaningful programs and assistance to Native Americans and veterans, respectively, and promote their rights in the state.

Economics and community

State agencies such as the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) and the Alabama Department of Revenue (ADOR) promote economic development and oversee financial assets in the state.

Education

The Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE) is one of several state agencies that coordinate and/or oversee the state’s educational institutions and student population.

Transportation

State agencies such as the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) maintain routes of travel and provide safe transportation systems in the state.

Ready to start researching? Access these electronic state publications and more in the ADAH Electronic Collections.

This initiative was supported in part by a National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant to the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) and the Office of the Governor.

Meet the Staff Feature: David Spriegel

For the Record’s “Meet the Staff” feature is an opportunity for our archivists to connect directly with the community which we serve.

Name: David Spriegel

Title: Records Management Archivist

Specialties: I serve as a liaison to the Secretary of State’s Office.

How did you end up working at the Alabama Department of Archives and History?

Before beginning my current position, I worked for the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a digital archivist. There, I was tasked with assisting a federal agency (in Omaha, Nebraska) to organize their born-digital records during the implementation of a content management system. Prior to this, I assisted several local government clients in Lake County, Illinois, with records management efforts. 

What is something you enjoy about working in records management?

What I enjoy about records management is the opportunity to see how minute details can combine to create a larger picture of an organization. I view records management and archives as two sides of the same coin – both relate to information management within an organization, but records management reduces the amount of materials that are transferred to the archives. In terms of educating staff about records management, what is most powerful to me is that the smallest changes can make the biggest differences. 

What do you view as the biggest challenge facing the profession today?

I believe that the biggest challenge is advocating for the continued relevance of the profession. Archives and records management compete for space and funding among current concepts such as big data, software development, and mass digitization. Also vital is emphasizing the importance of preserving permanent records. Most important in terms of individual programs and projects is that archives and records management should be integrated from the outset rather than as a final requirement. 

What are your hobbies when you are not at work?

Outside of work, I enjoy watching documentaries and mysteries, reading, and walking. I also like attending museums and cultural events. 

Digitized Alabama House and Senate Journals Now Live on Preservica

The 1998-2018 Journals of the Alabama Senate went live in the Alabama Department of Archives and History Electronic Records Collections on September 1, 2019, joining the 1998-2018 Journals of the Alabama House of Representatives. This site provides access to born-digital records through Preservica, a cloud-based subscription service that provides access to electronic records and migrates file formats to ensure their long-term preservation.

The Journals of the Alabama Senate and House of Representatives detail the day-by-day proceedings of the state legislature. They record officer elections, committee assignments, and actions taken on legislation, as well as the governor’s annual State of the State Address. The legislative journals have been published from the establishment of the territorial legislature in 1818 to the present day.

The journals provide a critical piece of the puzzle when researching the legislative intent for bills. Researchers studying the published Acts of Alabama may determine which legislator introduced an Act as a bill and what number the bill was assigned, and then consult the House and Senate journals to research the bill. For bills and resolutions that never became Acts, researchers may consult the journals to study their journey from introduction to rejection.

For example, Governor Robert Bentley signed Act 2016-309 designating Lane Cake the official cake of Alabama. Named for its creator, Emma Rylander Lane, Lane Cake is a layered bourbon cake made with sponge cake, raisins, pecans, and flaked coconut. Senator Billy Beasley of Clayton sponsored Senate Bill 184 on April 28, 2016 “to designate the Lane Cake as the official state cake.” In the House, Representative John Knight offered an amendment to the bill, to replace “Lane” with “Elaine” (p. 1732).  On the motion of Representative Elaine Beech, Knight’s amendment was tabled with 46 “yeas” and 42 “nays” – a close call. Who said legislators didn’t have a sense of humor?

Another point of interest is the annual “Shroud Award,” a light-hearted tradition beginning in 1979. On the final day of the legislative session, this distinction goes to the representative who sponsored the “deadest piece of legislation.” In 2002, Representative Marcel Black received the award for House Joint Resolution 152, calling for a vote on the question of whether to hold a constitutional convention. The Shroud Award was announced with a poem:

       “A well-versed proposal that brought forth: 
Nutty professors with nothing else to do;
Menacing lawyers looking to sue;
Religious crusaders without a legal clue;
Think tank intellectuals not looking out for you;
Farming concerns interested in more than animals that moo;
Tax proponents and opponents both wailing boo hoo;
Newspaper editors with a single-minded view;
Those who cling to the old, and those who reach for the new;
And, assorted fruits, nuts, and berries from way out of the blue”
(p. 2740).

Find every Shroud Award as well as “dishonorable mentions” in the Journals of the Alabama House of Representatives.

Researchers may use the journals in other ways, such as to study the activities of the House or Senate in a given time period. If the journals mention a specific committee, researchers may follow up with the Committee Journal, if available, in the ADAH Research Room. Finally, the journals contain rosters of all the Senators and Representatives for each term. Genealogical researchers may use these rosters to find out about an ancestor’s participation in the House or Senate.

Ready to start researching?

This initiative was supported in part by a National Historic Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant to the Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) and the Office of the Governor.

Meet the Staff Feature: Rebecca Jackson

Name: Rebecca Jackson

For the Record’s “Meet the Staff” feature is an opportunity for our archivists to connect directly with the community which we serve.

Title: Records Management Archivist

Specialties: Working with state agencies to transfer permanent records to the Archives and helping local governments receive approval to destroy their obsolete records.

How did you end up working at the Alabama Department of Archives and History?

I previously worked for around a decade at non-profit organizations that focused on policy research and advocacy. My work at these organizations was all about connecting and empowering citizens with the information and resources they needed to be a part of the policy-making process. While in many ways my previous work experience is very different from the work I do at the Archives, I am still working towards connecting people to the government that serves them.

What is something you enjoy about working in records management?

I love being a small part in bringing new records into the Archives that will be here for researchers, historians, and the public long after I leave. When we get something that I find interesting, I want to shout from the rooftop to let everyone know. I start thinking about all the ways the records can be used and analyzed and the insight they can provide.

What do you view as the biggest challenge facing the profession today?

I think Archivists are getting a handle on electronic records and how to manage, collect, and preserve them. But as governments move more into the collection and analysis of big data, I worry that we will have a harder time conceptualizing, collecting, and preserving these records.

What are your hobbies when you are not at work?

I enjoy spending time outdoors with my husband and dog, hiking, swimming, gardening, and lounging in my hammock. I also enjoy cooking, eating, and exploring new places.

Capturing Web Content with Archive-It

You know what they say – once you post something online, you can’t take it down. “The internet is forever” – except when it’s not. Ever clicked on a link only to receive the pesky message “404 Error: Page Not Found”? Web records such as websites and social media are only “forever” if they are properly, and promptly, preserved.

Most Alabama state agencies maintain a website so that citizens can access content and get things done online without having to make a call or come by the office. State agencies also use websites and social media to communicate with citizens. These websites and social media pages are updated frequently, however, and may one day disappear. Websites and social media serve state agencies and citizens in the present but may also be of interest to future researchers.

The State Records Commission has identified all state agency websites as permanent records per the Records Disposition Authorities (RDAs). Yet the archivists at the ADAH (talented though we may be) cannot capture the constantly evolving websites of around 200 state agencies. Since 2005, the ADAH has used a service called Archive-It to capture state agency websites.

What is Archive-It?

Archive-It is a subscription-based web archiving service from the Internet Archive, a 501(c)(3) non-profit and digital library. The Internet Archive provides free access to archived websites and other digital artifacts to researchers, historians, and the general public.

The Internet Archive also works with over 600 libraries and other partner organizations to harvest, build, and preserve collections of digital content, such as websites, blogs, and social media sites. The Archive-It service takes “snapshots” of a website’s appearance and top-level content throughout the year through a process called web crawling.

Webcrawling: How does it work?

Have you ever wondered how Google provides just the search result you need? Search engines like Google use webcrawlers. A webcrawler, sometimes called a spider, is software that systematically browses (or “crawls”) and automatically indexes the web.

Webcrawlers are always at work. They start with the targeted URL or “seed” URL. Usually the home page, the seed is the web crawler’s starting address for capturing content. From there, they follow links and extract data and documents. If a crawler comes across a new webpage, it indexes the page. If the webpage has already been indexed, then the crawler determines whether re-indexing is warranted.

Archive-It uses Heritrix, a webcrawler developed by the Internet Archive. Heritrix crawls all the seeds provided by the ADAH simultaneously and copies and saves the information as it goes. Archived websites are stored as “snapshots” but can be read and navigated as if they were live. They are full-text searchable within seven days of capture. The Internet Archive stores a primary and back-up copy at its data centers on multiple servers.

Note: All web crawlers, including Heritrix, fall short of making a complete index. There is no guarantee that documents placed on agency websites will be captured. Documents with a permanent retention must be transmitted to the ADAH separately. 

How does the ADAH use Archive-It?

The ADAH pays a subscription to collect a certain number of URLs. To archive a website, we provide its seed URL. The ADAH crawls all websites and select social media sites of all state agencies as well as the social media sites of Alabama Representatives and Senators. Social media sites crawls occur four times a year, while website crawls occur two times a year.

The ADAH has assigned descriptive metadata to each seed including website name, agency name, and short descriptions to aid access for researchers. The ADAH generates quarterly reports with statistics such as the total number of seeds crawled, the total number of documents crawled, and the total amount of data crawled in bytes.

How do I access archived websites?

Websites currently preserved by the ADAH are accessible here. If your agency’s website is not being captured, has been redesigned, or its URL has changed, please email a list of the URLs to the following:

Rachel Smith at Rachel.Smith@archives.alabama.gov

Becky Hebert at Becky.Hebert@archives.alabama.gov

Note: Universities and Local Governments are responsible for archiving snapshots of their own websites.

Imagine surfing circa 1999 and looking back on the Y2K hype, or revisiting an older version of your favorite Web site. Use the Wayback Machine to see billions of archived websites including vintage games, grab original source code from archived web pages, or visit websites that no longer exist. Simply type in a URL, select a date range, and begin surfing.

Preserving Alabama’s Musical Heritage: The Alabama State Council on the Arts Processing Project

In early June 2019, ADAH Appraisal and Collections staff teamed up to process records from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. The records came from the office of Folklife Specialist Steve Grauberger, who served on the Council from 1998 until his retirement in 2017. As part of the Council’s mission to promote arts activities in Alabama, Mr. Grauberger recorded musical performances at churches, rehearsals, conventions, and other cultural events. His most significant contributions are hundreds of hours of field recordings of gospel and other folk music.

Alabama is to gospel what Mississippi is to the blues. No other state has such a rich, active, and well-documented tradition of gospel music. Perhaps the most significant part of this collection is its field recordings from the Sand Mountain and Wiregrass regions of Alabama, two hotbeds of gospel singing. One can hear diverse musical styles in these regions, from bluegrass, to gospel, to blues, to shape-note music.

Shape-Note Music from Wiregrass and Sand Mountain

There are two shape-note systems of singing: four-shape or “Fa-So-La,” and seven-shape or “Do-Re-Mi.” Sacred Harp uses the four-shape system and is performed a capella (voice only, without instruments). Unlike standard musical notation, Sacred Harp music uses printed shapes – ovals, diamonds, squares, and triangles – to help untrained singers read the music. Sacred Harp singers sit in a square with bass, alto, tenor, and soprano parts facing each other on each side. The National Sacred Harp Singing Convention is held in Alabama every June and draws singers from all over the United States.

Sacred Harp flourishes in both the Wiregrass and Sand Mountain regions of Alabama. Named for its tall native grass, the Wiregrass region in southeast Alabama – particularly the cities of Troy and Ozark – is the epicenter of African-American gospel.  Mr. Grauberger recorded extensively in this region.

Seven-shape note music is lesser known than Sacred Harp, yet extremely influential. Sand Mountain, a region spanning from northeast Alabama to southwestern Georgia, is a hub for both Sacred Harp and seven-shape note congregational hymn singing. Many popular hymns derive from this tradition, including “I’ll Fly Away,” “Victory in Jesus,” and “Standing on the Promises.” The collection features ample seven-shape field recordings and songbooks.

Gospel, Bluegrass, Blues, and Other Folk Music

Other highlights of the collection include the following field recordings:

  • Jubilee singers in the Jefferson County Quartet tradition, including but not limited to the Ensley Jubilee Singers, the Delta Aires Quartet, and the Shelby County Big Four.
  • The Sullivan Family Band: Margie and Enoch Sullivan and their family of St. Stephens, Alabama performed bluegrass gospel for over fifty years.
  • Blues guitarist J.W. Warren; blues harmonica player David Johnson, and blues one-man band Sonny Boy King.
  • Fiddler Noah Lacy of Jackson County, Alabama.
  • The Baldwin County Polka Band.
  • Mariachi Garibaldi of Montgomery, Alabama. (Fun Fact: Mariachi Garibaldi performed at the grand opening of the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s “Alabama Voices” exhibition in February of 2014.)

Processing the Collection

Folklife field recordings from the Alabama State Council on the Arts contain a variety of formats, from digital audio tapes (DAT), to cassettes, to compact discs (CDs), with performance recordings from as early as 1927 to as recent as 2015. Most of the recordings are audio recordings, but some consist of photographs and videos. After conducting an initial survey of the records, ADAH staff divided the field recordings by physical format and arranged them chronologically. We separated publicity records, including radio shows and other productions produced by the Council.

Explore Alabama Folklife

Researchers interested in Alabama folk culture and music can explore the Alabama Department of Archives and History’s Archive of Alabama Folk Culture (AAFC). The AAFC features fieldwork gathered by the Alabama Folklife Association, a partner program of the Alabama State Council on the Arts, and the Alabama Center for Traditional Culture, a division of the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

Researchers can access the most recent materials from the Alabama State Council on the Arts by visiting the Research Room at ADAH. While Reference staff are unable to provide access to some format types (DAT and reel-to-reel recordings, for example), they can provide access to the bulk of the collection. We recommend contacting Reference staff ahead of your visit to ensure that proper equipment is on hand.

References

Brennan, Grey. Henagar: The Sound of (Sacred Harp) music. Sweet Home Alabama. Retrieved from https://alabama.travel/road-trips/henagar-the-sound-of-sacred-harp-music

Mahala Church, Mobile, Alabama (2009, August 24). National Sacred Harp Singing Convention, Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2416

Olliff, Martin T. (2018, November 29). Wiregrass region. Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved from http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-4048

Reyes, Luisa Kay (2019, March 5). Southern shapes. Alabama Bicentennial. Retrieved from http://alabama200.org/media/bicentennial-blog/southern-shapes

Willett, Henry (1995, April). Voices raised, singing praise: Two centuries of sacred sounds in Alabama. Alabama State Council on the Arts. Retrieved from http://arts.alabama.gov/traditional_culture/folkwaysarticles/VOICESRAISED.aspx