The State Library and Archives of Texas

[ Regional/Texas ]

The State Library and Archives of Texas

A History, 1835-1962

By David B. Gracy II

This look back at how the Texas state library has fulfilled its mission encourages policymakers and the public to value the library and archival service of government and give it the support it needs to be even more effective in the digital future.

2010

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Hardcover

6 x 9 | 264 pp. | 25 b&w photos

ISBN: 978-0-292-72201-9

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Paperback

6 x 9 | 264 pp. | 25 b&w photos

ISBN: 978-0-292-72896-7

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission celebrated its centennial in 2009. To honor that milestone, former State Archivist David Gracy has taken a retrospective look at the agency's colorful and sometimes contentious history as Texas's official information provider and record keeper. In this book, he chronicles more than a century of efforts by dedicated librarians and archivists to deliver the essential, nonpartisan library and archival functions of government within a political environment in which legislators and governors usually agreed that libraries and archives were good and needed—but they disagreed about whatever expenditure was being proposed at the moment.

Gracy recounts the stories of persevering, sometimes controversial state librarians and archivists, and commission members, including Ernest Winkler, Elizabeth West (the first female agency head in Texas government), Fannie Wilcox, Virginia Gambrell, and Louis Kemp, who worked to provide Texans the vital services of the state library and archives—developing public library service statewide, maintaining state and federal records for use by the public and lawmakers, running summer reading programs for children, providing services for the visually impaired, and preserving the historically significant records of Texas as a colony, province, republic, and state. Gracy explains how the agency has struggled to balance its differing library and archival functions and, most of all, to be treated as a full-range information provider, and not just as a collection of disparate services.

  • Foreword, by Peggy D. Rudd
  • Preface: Nor Is This All
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1. "To Have the Texas People See the Necessity for It": Establishing the Library and Archival Functions of Government, 1835-1909
  • 2. "Bricks without Straw": The Winkler, Klaerner, and West Years, 1909-1925
  • 3. "I Don't Feel as Good as I Would If I Could": The Rogan and First Wilcox Years, 1925-1932
  • 4. "The State Library Needs Space, Money, and Official Understanding—and the Greatest of These Is the Last": The Middle Wilcox Years, 1932-1935
  • 5. "A Diffusion of Interests and Objectives": The Final Wilcox Years, 1935-1945
  • 6. "There Are Many Hurdles to Jump before the Race Is Won—If It Is Won": The Henshaw Years, 1946-1950
  • 7. "More Grief Than at Present": The Connerly and Gibson Years, 1950-1953
  • 8. "If and When the Glad Day Comes": The Harwell, Peace, and Beginning Winfrey Years, 1954-1962
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix 1: Texas Library and Historical Commission: Members, 1909-1962
  • Appendix 2: Texas Library and Historical Commission: By Year and Appointment, 1909-1962
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

"Are you planning to have any sort of history written of the Texas State Library and Archives on the occasion of the 2009 centennial of the establishment of the commission?" I asked Peggy Rudd, director and librarian of the Texas State Library and Archives, late in 2005 as the anniversary began to loom. Being a historian by education and having worked in the Texas State Archives division of the agency twice—first in 1959 as a go-fer launching my career in archival enterprise and then for nine years, 1977-1986, as its director—I thought that publication of a history of some dimension would be a fitting way to mark the centennial of the agency under the present enabling statute. Signed into law in 1909, the act fundamentally changed the state library by placing the then decades-old library and archival functions under the governance of the Texas Library and Historical Commission, renamed appropriately in 1979 the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

"Yes, and you are going to write it," Peggy answered. "Not I," I replied, as I had asked my question with no motive beyond the anticipation of enjoying reading such a history. Over the course of succeeding days, Peggy continued to insist and I to decline, until finally her persistence prevailed, and I agreed to undertake it if we had a publisher. The University of Texas Press liked the project, and the rest, as they say, is history (and the history that follows).

If one thing in the history of the Texas State Library and Archives especially beckoned me into this study, it was the perplexity I recalled from my years as state archivist regarding the relationship between the library function and the archives/records/history function. The imbalance was obvious. The office outfitted for the state archivist when the present home for the agency was occupied in 1961, and into which I moved sixteen years later, was lavish by comparison with the offices of the other division directors. Three walls of the office were lined with wooden bookshelves, the floor was carpeted, curtains hung on the windows, and a huge wooden desk bestowed a massive dignity on the room and provided more than ample work surface. The state archivist's office resembled the nicely appointed quarters of the state librarian and bore no relationship to the plain, bare-walled and linoleum-floored generic work spaces of the other division directors. Why had this discrepancy been built into the fabric of the agency's home? Making the contrast all the more curious to me was that it was the library development role of the agency in which the administration and governing commission were invested during my tenure, not the archival operation. If the state archives had been esteemed so highly in 1961 as to be accorded this physical prominence, what had devalued it? More fundamentally, how had the library and archives/records/history functions been weighted throughout the agency's history—had they ever been in balance? If the building had been designed at another time, I had to wonder, would all of the division director offices have been outfitted to the same level, or would the office of another have been generously furnished and the state archivist relegated to barren walls and linoleum?

I worked on the history for only a short time before I saw that I was neither alone nor early in pondering the proper relationship between the library and the archival functions of government joined in the single state agency. Lawmakers, commission members, and, most of all, state librarians since at least 1876 had been haunted by the matter of (or, as some likely would have said, frustrated trying to achieve) balance. None confronted it more directly, boldly, and zealously than Texas state librarian Cadwell Walton Raines a century ago.

"What is the Texas State Library's special field of labor?" Raines asked in his annual report for 1906. What is the special field of labor of an American state library? he was posing as well. More than a question tossed off simply to provide a backdrop for demonstrating the breadth and importance of the work being accomplished in the Texas agency, the issue had challenged librarians and state lawmakers for generations.

New York state law librarian Stephen B. Griswold believed in 1876 that he had the answer. In his "Law Libraries" chapter in the massive two-volume compilation of information on libraries in the United States published by the U.S. Office of Education in the nation's centennial year, he stated flatly that the state library was "a public library, located at the seat of government, maintained at the public charge and primarily for the use of members of the legislature, State officers, the courts and the bar." Legislative proceedings and statutes of the several states, state and national documents (publications of government departments), and "the ephemera of jurisprudence" constituted the collection he considered appropriate.

Griswold's colleague, New York state librarian Henry A. Homes—more librarian than lawyer—knew better. After recounting the history and present condition of state-level libraries in his chapter on "State and Territorial Libraries," a tour de force in the same volume, Homes submitted as the special field of labor every function any state librarian had claimed as appropriate. The litany was breathtaking. Boiled down, the ultimate state library would collect and provide access to statutes, legislative journals, and documents of all the states; works of state, national, and local history, science, and the arts relating to the state, and works written by citizens of the state; archives of state government and of eminent citizens; newspapers of the state; book lists to aid public and school librarians in building their collections; and "not going beyond what we have a right to hope for," museums of history, natural history, and archaeology. Homes' state library would serve "not merely in behalf of material ends and legislative necessities, but also for the cultivation and development of the most serious studies and the highest thought on themes of science and of social and political life." No state library Homes surveyed for his 1876 report accomplished even most of these operations. In fact, precious few were undertaking more than what Homes saw as the barest minimum of services: building collections—of the laws of the state, of manuscripts (by which he meant archives), and of maps. Many were doing less even than this.

Cadwell Raines thirty years later, in 1906, understood what a reading of Griswold and Homes made clear—no single answer sufficed. To demonstrate the diversity of concrete answers offered in his day, Raines quoted some succinct authoritative opinions. The state librarian of Connecticut, reminiscent of Homes, maintained that "without a doubt the ideal state library is a library located at the capital, owned by the state, and representing every department of knowledge; . . . with a department of archives." Indiana's state librarian in contrast promulgated:

The essential mission of the state library is to serve the state as an institution, and . . . there is no more reason for the citizen expecting library help from the state library other than as reference than there is for his borrowing money from the treasury when his corn or cotton fails. . . . The chief end of the public library is to serve the people individually; the chief end of the state library is to serve the state as an institution.

As each state is different, Raines concluded, so "there can be no common standard for the state library beyond a few fundamental lines."

The truth Raines submitted in those words written at the beginning of the twentieth century library historians at its end confirmed. Ethel E. Himmel knew of no time in which all state libraries were uniform in purpose, service, and structure. In her overview of state libraries in the Encyclopedia of Library History, titled "State Library Agencies in the United States," she observed,

The image of the state library in the United States of America as a collection of materials housed in the state capital to serve the needs of elected officials and government workers, perhaps an accurate picture in earlier times, has been replaced by a less clearly defined multi-purpose state agency. The mix of functions and services provided by each state library agency has reflected the historical development of library services in the given state.

The most prolific of library historians, Wayne A. Wiegand, sidestepped the challenge altogether. In his sweeping survey, "The Historical Development of State Library Agencies," Wiegand treated three hundred years of state library history without ever affirming what a state library is. After tracing the history of libraries through five millennia to culmination in the American experience, Richard E. Rubin's masterful chapter "From Past to Present: The Library's Mission and Its Values," in his Foundations of Library and Information Science (1998), offered not one word on the American state library and its mission. As distinct as different types of libraries—public, academic, school, and special, for example—are in their missions, none of the three authors followed the example of the Indiana state librarian who had delineated his institution by the stratagem of contrasting it against another type of library.

The difficulty librarians have in defining the American state library no doubt is that the institution in too many instances does not neatly fit the mold of being just a library, as the term is widely understood. The Texas Research League expressed this clearly in its 1956 review of Texas' state library: "The use of the term 'library' when referring to the State Library was much more appropriate at the time it was first founded, because it then consisted of only a small specialized collection of books. While perhaps not entirely inappropriate, the use of the term in reference to the operation today can be misleading." The American Heritage Dictionary defines "library" in this way: "a. A place in which literary and artistic materials, such as books, periodicals, newspapers, pamphlets, prints, records, and tapes, are kept for reading, reference, or lending. b. A collection of such materials, especially when systematically arranged" (emphasis added). In contrast, the common standard, to use Raines' term, that distinguishes the American state library through history is its character as an agency of state government established to manage information. That is it! The primary mission of the state library has been to provide an information service to the government (sometimes to but a single department, as when it serves as a law library for the supreme court). Commonly, state libraries have been charged also to assist citizens in accessing information and librarians in extending library service.

The lines of work performed in state libraries can be grouped into three broad functions:

A library resource function
For the librarian, this consists of acquiring information (by collecting it from sources outside of the government and/or by obtaining it through interagency transfer from state agencies), classifying and cataloging it, and maintaining a reference service to facilitate its use. In different states, this reference role has been designed to serve the general public, and/or to meet the needs of lawmakers crafting legislation, and/or to provide works in Braille and audio formats to the blind.
When serving state government staff, the library resource function of the state library fulfills an administrative role central to the efficient functioning of the government of which the state library is a part. By contrast, when serving citizens in the manner of a public library, the state library is seen to be fulfilling a cultural/educational role. Those responsible for allocating resources to state libraries frequently consider the cultural/educational role secondary to the central purpose of governing. In times of economic distress, this can render the state library vulnerable to reductions in appropriation proportionally greater than in those functions of government deemed to be essential.
An archival/records management/history function
For the archivist in 2009, this consists primarily of managing state agency records—all documentation created, received, and gathered in the conduct of state business for the purpose of carrying out state government operations and/or having a documentary record of those operations. The purpose of the archival/records management/history function is twofold: first, to facilitate government workers' ready accessibility to the records needed in the conduct of their work, and, second, to preserve and make available those records whose content will have continuing use by government workers and citizens after the records have fulfilled the purpose for which they were created.
The majority of state archives also hold records of organizations and papers of individuals otherwise unconnected to state government, the study of whose records and papers could contribute to an understanding of historical developments in the state. Through the middle of the twentieth century, state archives commonly compiled and published verbatim transcripts of series of documents, thereby discharging a traditional history role of archival repositories. The collecting and publishing of resources requisite to writing history fulfills a cultural/educational role distinct from the administrative role of managing the government's records. Those responsible for allocating resources to run state government commonly have valued the cultural/educational role no more highly in the archives/records management/history function than in the library resource function.
Nine state libraries in 2009 were charged with archival responsibilities in whole or in part, down from twenty-two in 1956.
A function supporting the vibrancy of public library service throughout the state
Referred to at various times as extension or library development, in the early decades of the century this meant promoting the creation and support of public libraries. In the later decades, resource sharing has been added to the function, to extend the ability of public libraries to provide their clienteles with the information resources requested.

By contrast with the librarian's and archivist's duties performed in delivering the library and archival service—spelled out in the law framing and charging the agency—the citizen sees the state library's functions through a lens that reduces them to two:

  • Satisfying an altruistic conviction of the value of providing a service appropriate for government in support of a well-ordered society
  • Meeting the specific needs of individual citizens for information, such as
    • a veteran using a muster roll to verify service to entitle him or her to a pension
    • a genealogist gleaning pension applications for information on ancestors
    • an activist studying legislative committee files to determine intent in the wording of an act
    • a blind person receiving Braille or talking books for entertainment or edification
    • a legislator scrutinizing statistics to support or oppose a position
    • a historian examining records so as to prepare studies to enrich understanding of the development and meaning of events

Contributing to the difficulty of stating succinctly what a state library is or should be are the different estimations of the value of the contribution of the library and archival service held by librarians and archivists, citizens, and state policy makers.

Since only a minority of state libraries ever have undertaken all three functions, or even all of the services within the library and archival functions, the vision Cadwell Raines had in 1906 of the state library appropriate for Texas was nothing short of grand. Boiled down, but in his words, it was this:

  • "The Texas State Library should be the treasure house of information relating to Texas and the Southwest."
  • "It is to be the armory whence may be drawn, if need be, the weapons with which to defend the truth of history."
  • "The State Library, too, should serve the government of which it is a part. . . . This involves the maintenance of a well equipped, up-to-date reference department and careful classification of the documents of the various States."
  • "By its relation to the State government the State Library is the office of record for everything issued by the several departments; not only the printed books, pamphlets, maps, etc., but also the manuscript records of historical value after they are no longer necessary to the current duties of said departments."
  • "Nor is this all."
  • "To furnish to the student these sources the State Library must reach out and collect everything relating to the past as well as conserve the vast output of materials of the present."

A clear, encompassing, and inspiring vision such as Raines' surfaced infrequently in the history of the state library and archives of Texas in its first century and a quarter, from the period of the Revolution and the Republic of Texas, 1835-1846, until it finally and formally occupied its first permanent home in 1962. Both before and after Raines' tenure, those responsible for fixing a direction for the state library and archival functions—state librarians, heads of the omnibus state department in which the library and archival functions were incorporated 1876-1909, members of the governing commission that was given oversight responsibility in 1909, lawmakers, and governors—struggled, sometimes desperately and at odds, to fashion and enunciate a vision. Some declared that the state library and archives of Texas had as few as three services; others counted nine. Often omitted from the list was work the agency actually was performing after 1909, such as service to the blind. Since the principal change in the statutory scope of the agency between 1909 and 1962 was the addition of the records management program in 1947, the variation in number of services resulted not from changes in the law but from different emphases proffered by agency leaders and policy makers pursuing their particular concepts of the purpose of the agency or of the constituency they believed the agency primarily should serve.

The history of the state library and archives of Texas is, then, the story, first, of strong-willed people—policy makers, administrators, and patrons—contending with few holds barred to shape the state library and archival operation in the mold they conceived for it, and, second, of a state government service whose necessity no one disputed but whose nature few could agree on for long.

It is the story of defining an information service appropriate for state government—the story of a nonpartisan agency, administered for the most part by trained professionals, laboring in a political environment that could erupt at any time. Sometimes legislators overrode the agency's administration and governing commission to skirt the state's constitution or to pander to self-satisfied constituents. Sometimes, to avoid the notice of politicians who were not above using their position to diminish the agency in retribution, the state librarian had to fashion ways out of their view to deliver the agency's service to citizens—notably, African Americans during Elizabeth Howard West's term. But in contrast, two governors' personal interest in the history of Texas and the archives on which it is based occasioned the two periods of spectacular advance in the accomplishment of the agency's mission.

It is a story of insufficient resources of money, space, and staff, thwarting realization of the agency as Raines envisioned it in 1906. Commensurate with the story of insufficient funds is Not just a story of insufficient resources, it is also one of a prevailing penny-wise and pound-foolish attitude that libraries and archives are good and needed, just not now and not at this cost. Sounded at the very first mention of a library for Texas government, the sentiment has afflicted the agency throughout its history.

It is a story of unfortunate unintended consequences of well-meaning initiatives, most obviously in establishing education in librarianship as the single professional qualification necessary to be state librarian. Written into law in 1919 to stymie any future governor who would try to ape Governor Jim Ferguson's politicization of the commission and the agency, the requirement sent commission members thereafter searching for librarians to head the agency or placed the governing board in the uncomfortable position of flouting the law altogether. It justified the increasingly politically active library community in its advocacy of only the library side of the agency. Most fundamentally, it made more difficult the jobs of the state librarian and the commission to administer and support the library and archival functions of the Texas State Library equally.

It is the story nevertheless of many dedicated staff members and a handful of strong leaders whose commitment to the service mission of librarians and archivists brought them to work every day. One was Elizabeth Howard West, whose selection in 1918 as the third state librarian also distinguished the Texas State Library as the first agency in Texas state government to place a woman at its head. Another was Raines' former deputy and the first state librarian under the commission, Ernest William Winkler. He set the tone for the agency in 1909 when, having to operate for the first several months with not one dollar of state money and thus having to fund much of the operation out of his own pocket, he cheerfully wrote in the agency's first newsletter: "But who could sit down and wait for the assembling of another Legislature to remedy even so important a defect as this . . . when the need for action and the promise of good results are so great?"

Portions of the story have been told by three writers of academic studies. The strength of Catherine Young's "History of the Texas State Library," completed in 1932 for a master's degree in education, is verbatim transcripts of statutes and other documents along with her account of the agency as of the period in which she wrote. Slightly more than a quarter century later, in 1959, for his master's degree in education, William Kittrell Peace III authored "A History of the Texas State Library with Emphasis on the Period from 1938 to 1958." Tracing history so recent, Peace had limited access to the records on which substantial history must be based. But since he worked in the agency during many of the years his history covers, and for the final five of them as the director of the Extension Division, a strength of his thesis is his personal observations. By far the most substantial of the three is Marie Julia Shultz' doctoral dissertation in library and information science, "The Changing Role of the Texas State Library: Alternative Models for Coordination of Statewide Library Service" (1981). To put the history of the Texas State Library's role in promoting the establishment of public libraries around the state into the context of both developments in librarianship and in the history of the Texas State Library as an agency, Shultz did substantial research in the agency records. And working in the agency's Library Development Division, she, like Peace, had intimate knowledge of the matters on which her study concentrated. Her 565-page work is a monument to extensive and thorough research.

Each of the three began by characterizing the nature of the state library, and all concluded that, in Raines' words, the Texas State Library's special field of labor was the library function. Young and Peace considered the agency to be a public library. Shultz, encouraged by Peace, narrowed the special field to extension. Not one of these historians saw the agency as more than a collection of functions. Instead, they contributed three more instances to others strewn throughout the history of the Texas State Library asserting that the special work is one or another or a couple of the services of the agency—extension or public service or archives or records management or service to the blind. Indeed, the greatest challenge that faced the leaders and supporters of Texas' state library and archival agency throughout the period covered in this book—and since—a challenge that far too few of them perceived, was appreciating the agency as a single entity by managing all of its several functions and services with similar resolve.

In writing the present study of the state library and archives of Texas from the perspective of the agency as a whole as directed and experienced by the state librarian and the governing commission, the interesting histories of individual divisions and particular functions of the agency necessarily have been subordinated. One volume is inadequate to explore intimately the development of library extension throughout the state, for example, or service to specific communities (including the blind and state agencies), establishment of records management throughout state government, or preservation work that at times pioneered on the national level. Studies of these individual administrative units and functions will enrich understanding of, on the one hand, the challenges to and contributions of the role of Texas' state library and archives in shaping the information life of both citizens and state government and, on the other, the contribution of the Texas model to appreciation of the special form of information agency in the United States that is a state library in full blossom.

David B. Gracy II
Austin, Texas
March 2009

By David B. Gracy II

David B. Gracy II is the Governor Bill Daniel Professor in Archival Enterprise, School of Information, University of Texas at Austin; a Fellow of the Texas State Historical Association; and a Certified Archivist. Eighteen years after beginning his archival career in the Texas State Archives, Gracy returned as Texas State Archivist (1977–1986).