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Preserving Our Past, Insuring Our History for the Future:
Nebraska State Historical Records Advisory Board Strategic Plan, 2006


Introduction:

Ten years ago, the newly reinstated Nebraska State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB) completed a two-year process and strategic plan. Based on input from constituents across the state, the SHRAB identified five issues of overriding concern to historical records custodians and users. That plan, Insuring Nebraska's Documentary Heritage: A Strategic Plan, has been the road map that the SHRAB has used in implementing projects and programs in the intervening years.

Among the successes that the Nebraska SHRAB can point to as having our involvement or support are a microfilming project to preserve and make accessible the World War I papers of G. P. Cather, the model for Willa Cather's hero in One of Ours, her Pulitzer-prize winning novel; participation in the Nebraska Newspaper Project, resulting ultimately in preservation of over 300,000 pages of newspapers; a series of workshops on grant-writing to assist local historical societies produce fundable grant proposals; a processing project to organize and describe 4,860 drawings and blueprints documenting the construction of the Nebraska State Capitol; hands-on training at the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in conservation techniques and best practices for records custodians in the Great Plains region; an orientation packet and follow-up training for government records officials; workshops on basic archival management for historical societies; and a Collections Guide and Survey Project at the Nebraska State Historical Society (NSHS) that produced online collection-level finding aids.

In this new strategic plan, Preserving the Past, Insuring our History for the Future, we hope to build on these successes. The participants at SHRAB-sponsored town hall meetings provided many examples from their own experiences - both successes and concerns - that enabled us to produce a new plan. We are indebted to them for their contributions in helping us to craft this new plan, one that we hope will be a new road map to further successes.

 

The Nebraska State Historical Records Advisory Board: Who We Are

The SHRAB is a state board, appointed by the governor, under the authority of federal statutes and regulations governing the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) program of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 44 U.S.C. 2501; 36 C.F.R. 1206. Permanent SHRAB members are the director of the NSHS, the state archivist, the government records archivist at the NSHS, and the deputy director for records management in the secretary of state's office. Other members are appointed by the governor for no more than two consecutive three-year terms.

The Nebraska SHRAB members represent a variety of constituencies. Typically county historical society directors, librarians, genealogists and other historical records researchers, history teachers and professors, and local government officials are appointed. A geographical balance is also required, representing the state's three congressional districts.

 

Workplan:

During 1995-96, the Nebraska SHRAB met with Nebraskans at nine sites in all regions of the state to learn about the condition and use of historical records in Nebraska. In an effort to measure our progress since the first strategic plan was implemented, but also to gather information on current historical records needs and concerns, the SHRAB revisited the same nine communities in 2005-06. As in the previous series of strategic planning sessions, the SHRAB heard the views of historical society and museum curators, historians, genealogists, librarians, county and municipal government officials, tribal representatives, teachers, and records users. While we were gratified that many participants in the sessions were complimentary about several of the projects that the SHRAB had completed over the past decade, we were also invigorated by several new challenges, both implicit and explicit, raised by the participants' comments.

The result of this nine-city survey is the new strategic plan, Preserving Our Past, Insuring Our History for the Future. While there are many similarities to the previous plan - the issues of preservation, access, and education/training appear likely always to be concerns of Nebraska historical records custodians and users - new issues that were just on the horizon ten years ago, such as electronic records management and preservation, are now directly in our vision.

The new strategic plan, reflecting issues discussed at the nine meetings and through additional commentary received by the SHRAB through correspondence, is a challenging call to action for everyone concerned about the ongoing survival of Nebraska's historical records. The SHRAB looks forward to meeting the challenges addressed in the plan, in working with its many colleagues across the state in addressing the issues raised, and in accomplishing the recommendations derived from the input of our constituents. As in the last decade, the next ten years are likely to be filled with activity and effort in preserving and sharing Nebraska's documentary heritage.

 

ISSUE #1 Education and Training

Participants at all of the sessions recognized that education and training opportunities must be made available constantly. This need is due not only to turnover in their institutions, but also to new issues, such as digitization, that are recent developments. Many recognized that the founding generations of their primarily volunteer-run organizations will not be as actively involved ten years from now, so the issue of training (and sometimes recruiting) newcomers was a concern.

The SHRAB's role will be one of insuring that continuous education and training opportunities are available While the SHRAB will continue to offer workshops addressing some of these issues, it will coordinate training with other state institutions or associations. For example, the Nebraska Library Commission offers workshops on digitization best practices. The SHRAB can promote such workshops among its own constituencies and encourage partnerships.

It was apparent from the town hall meetings that there is a higher level of awareness of preservation and collections management issues than in the past. As turnover occurs, it will be important to sustain this level of understanding.

Recommendations

  • Offer an annual workshop on such topics as digitization, collections care and management (including electronic records), collections access, grant-writing to NHPRC, disaster preparedness, and preservation. Present the workshop regionally based on funding availability.
  • Work with the state's professional associations and institutions to provide on-site training to historical records custodians
  • Produce columns on government records issues in the Nebraska Association of County Officials (NACO) newsletter
  • Develop training and educational resources on the Nebraska SHRAB website
  • Continue outreach to Nebraska tribes
  • Collaborate with state college history programs to seek internship placement opportunities for students
  • Maintain information on experts in various archival management areas, including disaster preparedness and preservation

 

ISSUE #2 Preservation

Ten years ago we reported that there were many local historical societies without public funding and little private support beyond volunteer efforts. The situation is much the same in 2006. One significant development over the last ten years has been the creation of the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center, a division of the NSHS, with a staff of professional conservators and state-of-the-art conservation labs. The Ford Center is a member of the Regional Alliance for Preservation and, as such, provides assessments, training, and services for Nebraska and the surrounding states. For the SHRAB, this has meant several opportunities to provide advice and training, both at the Ford Center and through on-site visits to repositories.

Nevertheless records custodians face significant hurdles. Many county records are stored in buildings or under conditions that are substandard. Funding by county boards for new and better space has not been forthcoming, placing those records at risk. County historical societies often inherit houses or other buildings that are inadequate for the storing of archival collections, and retrofitting them to make them acceptable would be costly.

Preservation of electronic records is of great concern to all. The NSHS reports that late twentieth-century records are very limited in its collections. Diaries are now blogs, correspondence is now e-mail, and born digital records are often a norm rather than an exception. In this fast-paced environment, much history is being lost.

Another phenomenon in the Internet Age is that online auctions are finding their way more readily into the hands of private collectors. While private collectors have always existed, a profit mentality now operates for many would-be entrepreneurs. Materials that should be in public repositories are being cannibalized at a rate unprecedented in the past. Sometimes government records are being sold illegally.

The SHRAB has supported and will continue to support preservation microfilming projects. In addition, they have encouraged cooperative buying opportunities for archival supplies. Multiple workshops on preservation have been held around the state over the last decade and, as in the case with education and training, additional workshops will be needed.

Recommendations:

  • Support projects to microfilm archival collections, including county records, for which inadequate storage and environmental controls are endangering their survival
  • Work with the Ford Center to identify collections in need of treatment
  • Provide conservation or reformatting referrals for institutions needing assistance with obsolete media
  • Promote participation in the Nebraska Memory Project, an effort to digitize, preserve, and provide access to photographic collections in the state
  • Assist repositories when materials taken from collections show up online
  • Provide information on records retention requirements, as well as environmental and storage standards, to county officials for presentations to funders
  • Urge repositories to create or update disaster preparedness plans for buildings and collections
  • Initiate Archives Week to inform the public about the state's archival holdings and the need to preserve them

 

ISSUE #3 Building collections

The historical record in the state is more fully understood than ten years ago. Many efforts have been made to find missing newspapers and other resources, and many more institutions have written collection development policies than in the past. Nevertheless identifiable gaps remain in collections. For example, few post-World War II collections are found at the NSHS and indeed in other historical societies in the state.

Areas in which the state could be more proactive in collecting include materials in alternative media. As mentioned, electronic records are one such medium requiring ongoing sustainability and management. Oral histories are becoming more important as the population ages, as well as in tribal archives, where storytelling and oral transmission of history is commonplace. Images and film present challenges both in collecting and preserving. Finally, several town hall meetings discussed the problem of creating new archives-such as college archives, business archives, and tribal archives.

Recommendations:

  • Advocate development of records retention schedules for universities and colleges
  • Encourage creation of collection development policies at local historical societies that emphasize collecting historical materials up to the present
  • Collaborate with the Nebraska Library Commission in promoting the development of digital image collections through the Nebraska Memory Project
  • Participate in statewide efforts to digitize newspapers once a National Digital Newspaper Program grant is funded. Papers have been microfilmed as part of the Nebraska Newspaper Project, a partnership of the NSHS and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Foster partnerships among state institutions and historical societies to development subject-specific digital collections, such as the Nebraska Public Documents project and American sports history

 

ISSUE #4 Access

In the last ten years, many advances have been made in providing access to collections thanks to the advent of the Internet. The NSHS successfully embarked on a Collections Guide and Survey Project, resulting in many important finding aids online. These can be accessed by researchers using the NSHS website: http://nebraskahistory.org/databases/nhprc/index.shtml. County historical societies have been encouraged to provide collections information to the NSHS, and information is added to the Collections Guide online by the staff in an effort to begin a union listing database. A finding aid to county government records held at the NSHS has been added to the NSHS website. In addition, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Archives/Special Collections unit has mounted many EAD-encoded finding aids on its site, and some of these collections complement ones at the NSHS. The Nebraska State Capitol inventory and processing of blueprints and architectural drawings funded by NHPRC in 1997 has documented the construction of the State Capitol.

Generally, the access to collections is better than at any time in the past. In spite of this positive observation, there is more to be done. Efforts to create a legislative statute of limitations on permanently closed records have not been successful. In addition, ongoing efforts are needed to inform new county officials of their role in providing access to records, while balancing the need for security. Although guidelines on the retention and preservation of websites, e-mail, and other born digital records have been developed by the Nebraska Records Management Division, issues relating to retention and sustainability of born digital records remain to be addressed. This topic was one of the chief concerns mentioned in each of the town hall meetings.

Recommendations:

  • Continue to encourage Nebraska records-holding repositories to contribute collection-level information to NSHS in order to create a statewide database of information about the state's archival resources
  • Seek a statute of limitations on permanently closed records, when appropriate, so they can be opened to the public after privacy concerns are met
  • Inform county officials regularly of their role in providing access to records, while balancing the need for security
  • Work with the secretary of state (Nebraska's state records administrator) to develop electronic records policies for local entities and state agencies.
  • Support the State Archives' efforts to survey historical records holdings in county courthouses

 

ISSUE #5 Electronic Records

Throughout this document, references have been made to concerns about the survival of electronic records. As one person noted, large portions of the history of Nebraska in the latter half of the twentieth century have been lost. Where once there were diaries, now there are blogs. Where once there was correspondence, now there is e-mail. A recent speaker remarked that the time will come when papers of important Nebraskans will include old hard drives from which data will need to be extracted.

To highlight these concerns, we have designated Electronic Records as the fifth issue, and repeat the various action recommendations for digital data.

Recommendations:

  • Offer an annual workshop on such topics as digitization best practices and digital preservation
  • Work with the secretary of state (Nebraska's state records administrator) to develop electronic records policies for local entities and state agencies
  • Promote participation in the Nebraska Memory Project, an effort to digitize, preserve, and provide access to photographic collections in the state
  • Participate in statewide efforts to digitize newspapers once a National Digital Newspaper Program grant is funded. Papers have been microfilmed as part of the Nebraska Newspaper Project, a partnership of the NSHS and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Develop a statewide plan for digital preservation


Nebraska State Historical Records Advisory Board:

Salvador Barragan, Lincoln (Deputy Coordinator)
Dr. Mark Ellis, Kearney
Andrea Faling, Lincoln (Coordinator)
Dr. Angelo Louisa, Omaha
Robert Nash, Omaha
Sarah Polak, Chadron
James Potter, Chadron
William Ptacek, Lincoln
Laureen Riedesel, Beatrice
Raymond Screws, Lincoln
Michael Smith, Lincoln
Katherine Walter, Lincoln

This report was made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Mission Statement (Adopted January 15, 1994): "The Nebraska State Historical Records Advisory Board (SHRAB) provides leadership in encouraging, promoting, and assisting the advancement of programs to preserve and make accessible historical records in Nebraska. As the central advisory body for historical records planning, the board's role is to investigate and report on the conditions and needs of historical records in Nebraska; to determine state priorities for historical records projects based upon National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) guidelines and records conditions and needs; to solicit, foster, and develop proposals for NHPRC projects to be carried out within the state; and to review grant proposals submitted by Nebraska institutions and make recommendations to NHPRC based upon their merit."

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Last updated 12 October 2006

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