NEW MEXICO’S DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE AT RISK
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Melissa T. Salazar State Records Administrator
Robert J. Tórrez Chair, Commission of Public Records
NEW MEXICO’S DOCUMENTARY HERITAGE AT RISK: STATE RECORDS CENTER AND ARCHIVES NEEDS A HERO
Recent budget cuts, an unsuccessful infrastructure capital improvement request, and the decision to place a New Mexico State Personnel Office Center for Excellence in the Carruthers Building in Santa Fe add to the growing crisis that threatens our state with the loss of our priceless historical records.
The General Services Department (GSD) and the State Personnel Office (SPO) recently announced their plan to move 93 SPO employees into a space currently occupied by the Southwest Book Collection of the State Library as part of the SPO consolidation. The project also takes over a portion of the State Archives genealogy room and its exhibit space. Nearly 93 cubicles will be installed in this downstairs area. Past studies and architectural plans commissioned and paid for by the State had already identified that space as a future archives vault for the Commission of Public Records - State Records Center and Archives (SRCA). Additionally, GSD staff reports there are no plans to increase staff wash room facilities, which now include 3 stalls for women and 4 stalls for men in this area.
During this past legislative session, the SRCA’s FY 2019 operating budget was also cut nearly $50,000 from its FY 2018 base operating budget. The agency had requested a base budget increase of $312,000. The additional monies were requested to fill five vacant positions and pay for the agency’s fixed operating costs, such as telecommunications, the annual audit, and insurance.
House Bill 306 initially included one million dollars to plan, design, repair and upgrade the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC) and for site drainage improvements at the Carruthers building. Unfortunately, the project funds were cut from the substitute bill. The funds had been requested to ensure that current records and archival holdings are properly protected. An optimal storage environment is vital for the preservation of records. Built more than 20 years ago, the existing HVAC system has arrived at the end of its lifespan, no longer sustaining a stable environment necessary for the long-term care and protection of the State's documentary heritage. The existing topography also slopes toward the facility, resulting in flooding of the building and grounds. GSD leadership had also indicated there would be no support for the SRCA building expansion and renovation request that began more than a decade ago.
For nearly twenty years, the Carruthers building has been home to the SRCA and State Library. The state records center holds approximately 77,120 cubic feet of inactive public records which have legal, fiscal, administrative, and historical value to the state. A select number of these contemporary records will become part of the permanent holdings of the state archives to be used by researchers, scholars, teachers,
students, and the general public to gain a better understanding and appreciation of New Mexico history and culture. Future historians will use these raw, primary materials to write the history of New Mexico.
The state archives houses the permanent and historical records of New Mexico, including the Spanish (1621-1821), Mexican (1821-1846), Territorial (1846-1912), and Statehood (1912-Present) period records. Some of the oldest documents in the United States are maintained here, the oldest being a document dated 1512 and signed by Spanish King Ferdinand. The protection and preservation of these public government records throughout their lifecycle is paramount in that they document the rights of New Mexico’s citizens and promote an open government.
The move to repurpose the space for the SPO consolidation upends numerous efforts to find suitable housing for New Mexico’s documentary heritage. In October 2007 (FY 2008) former State Records Administrator Sandra Jaramillo requested a special legislative appropriation of $50,000 for a feasibility study to determine facility needs, space requirements, and the projected 30-year growth for the SRCA. The study was conducted in FY 2010 by Architectural Research Consultants (ARC), Inc. Its findings and recommendations were submitted to the Capitol Buildings Planning Commission on November 16, 2009. ARC found that existing SRCA facilities overall were at 85 percent capacity at that time and would be full in four to five years, a prediction that has come to pass.
This acute lack of space has meant that the state archives is unable to accept records of historical significance, with the exception of approximately 800 cubic feet reserved for the records of Governor Susana Martinez. Because state agencies are no longer able to store their inactive records in the state records center, they have had to store their records wherever and however they can. This situation is a recipe for disaster. These records, which are no longer afforded proper records management, a climate- controlled environment, and a secure facility, are exposed to the risk of damage or complete loss.
Moreover, storing records in this manner and the lack of proper records management means they can be very difficult to access when needed. The result is government inefficiency and poor service to the public. Improper storage practices also pose a health and safety risk to state employees and to the public. Agencies are being issued Fire and Life Code violations given that boxes are stacked in egresses for evacuation, in office spaces, under stairwells, and inadequate storage areas. Boxes are also stacked too high, which creates fire dangers as boxes may come into contact with light fixtures, block sprinkler heads, and create falling hazards.
State agencies report regularly there is nowhere to store their records, and the cost for private storage is prohibitive. Agencies submit their requests for storage to the SRCA and are placed on a waiting list. In the meantime, SRCA employees work to destroy records that have already met their legal retention to make room. This labor intensive destruction process is also slowed as staffing at the agency has been reduced. Each records center has only two people tasked with moving 1000s of boxes weighing tens of thousands of pounds. The process also requires precision and verification to ensure materials are pulled correctly. While the SRCA anticipates the destruction of 4,261 boxes by the close of fiscal year 2018, there are several thousand more boxes waiting to come in. Additionally, the number of permanent records stored in the centers Santa Fe & Albuquerque records centers has steadily risen to about 50 percent. With the State Archives already at capacity there is no release valve and no other place to store these materials.
According to the 2009 study, ARC reported that an additional 5,300 gross square feet were needed by the year 2020 for the SRCA to meet projected demands. In response to the report, GSD’s Property Control Division commissioned the firm of Ellis-Browning Architects, Ltd. to undertake an expansion study of the Santa Fe facility. The study, completed in 2011, offered three phases. The first was a 14,700 sf expansion adjacent to the records center. The drawings closely mirrored the original 1995 plans of the yet-unbuilt facility, which already anticipated an expansion would be needed in 20 years. The second
phase was an 11,700 sf underground expansion to the archives. The third phase was to renovate the interior, moving the Southwest Book Collection upstairs and converting the space into an archives vault.
Further action was taken on April 5, 2013, when Governor Martinez signed into law Senate Finance Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 60 and House Taxation and Revenue Committee Substitute for House Bill 337. The legislation provided $600,000 "for architectural design and to renovate and expand the state commission of public records facility in Santa Fe in Santa Fe county." GSD’s Facilities Management Division contracted with the architectural firm Hoopes and Bowden, LLC to produce a 60% design development phase for the renovation and expansion of the facility. Submitted in 2015, the plan included a record center expansion similar to that of 1995 and 2011. It also included a phase to renovate the building interior, and again move the state library’s Southwest collection upstairs and convert the space into an archives vault. These moves were deemed the most efficient and cost-effective way to expand the existing archives facility. This architectural plan for expansion, developed at considerable cost in effort and money, can no longer be implemented. As it now stands, there is no alternative plan for an expansion of the SRCA in Santa Fe, and no support for an expansion, even if there were a viable plan in place.
The present crisis is not the first to confront New Mexico's documentary legacy, and fortunately a champion has always arisen to save the day. In 1862, as invading Confederate forces marched on Santa Fe, the thousands of pages of historical documents from the archives, particularly the land grant records, were spirited away to Fort Union for safekeeping for fear that the Rebels would destroy them. In 1869, Governor William A. Pile and Territorial Librarian Ira Bond callously disposed of a significant portion of New Mexico’s Spanish and Mexican-era archives. Many of the documents were saved by a local wood hauler, Eluterio Barela, who collected the discarded records into his cart. The act was met with public outcry, and the pair was forced to take action to recover the records. When fire engulfed the territorial capitol building in 1892, Governor L. Bradford Prince, historian Ralph Emerson Twitchell, and scores of others managed to save the archives, this according to a report by Territorial Librarian Facundo Pino and news accounts. In the 1970s State Historian Dr. Myra Ellen Jenkins and others fought successfully to keep New Mexico's land grant records from being transferred out of Santa Fe to the federal repository in Denver. Sadly, history may be repeating itself, as it is wont to do if we do not learn from it. Once again, our state's records are in need of a champion.
As early as 1990, plans for a new state archives and records facility in Santa Fe to replace the old Ilfeld Building on Montezuma Street were well underway. Former state records administrators sought funds from the Legislature to construct the new facility. By 1993, the land had been purchased and building plans prepared. After considerable delay, ground breaking took place in 1996, and the new SRCA opened in 1998. Although originally intended to house only the records center and archives, the state library also became a tenant. For 31 years the library had occupied the space currently known as the North Annex of the Capitol. However, because of its location, it was highly coveted by other agencies experiencing their own growth problems in the downtown area.
Given all the technological advances in the 21st Century, why do records centers and archives need more physical space to store paper records? The answers are both simple and complex. All public records that state agencies create or receive must be retained for a set number of years to meet legal, fiscal, and administrative requirements. Most agencies still produce millions of paper records that have relatively short retention periods—five years or less--before they can be destroyed. The cost in labor and equipment to scan and index these short-term items would be staggering not to mention the expense of storing massive amounts of data. It is not cost effective as the state would waste millions of dollars on scanning records that will be destroyed soon after the work is completed.
Digitizing records with long-term retentions is also problematic considering hardware and software obsolescence and failure. Agencies must have well-thought out imaging plans to ensure these records are migrated to the next technology while there are still viable and accessible. Access to electronic records in New Mexico, in particular, is a problem as many in the public still do not have easy access to the internet. Beyond those considerations, New Mexico state government is a long way from maintaining born digital records only.
In addressing born digital records, the SRCA has begun the Centralized Electronic Records Repository (CERR), a proof-of-concept project aimed at providing an enterprise approach to capturing, managing, and retrieving inactive electronic records for state agencies. The agency is currently managing 1.5 million electronic records via the CERR, and the Economic Development Department has joined as a pilot. At present and for the foreseeable future, paper and microfilm still provide the most reliable way of preserving records, especially records of historical significance. The "cloud" after all, is not some magical place in the sky where we store vital data, it is nothing more than a server farm, and no matter how redundant the backup, it is based on hardware and software.
The work of the SRCA and its staff is vital to the state of New Mexico. Records are the foundation of any government entity. On any given day, for example, the State Attorney General is representing one or more of our state agencies. In order to effectively represent the state, the attorney general and his staff rely on records housed either in the State Archives, the State Records Center, or onsite at the individual agencies. Without these documents readily available, their jobs would be made much more difficult, perhaps impossible, and the cost to the state of New Mexico would be great.
Proper records management assists state agencies in their response to the numerous Inspection of Public Records Act requests that come in. The cost to the state of New Mexico would be great if state agencies could not produce documents in a timely manner. The SRCA is responsible for helping state agencies produce the requested documents.
In the prosecution of repeat DWI and domestic violence offenders, the District Attorneys regularly request DWI and domestic violence cases that are housed in the State Archives. We have approximately 862 cubic feet of boxes containing these materials. The Records Center stores approximately 6,253 cubic feet of DWI and domestic violence records that are still in the custody of the courts. Sadly, the problem is so great, that staff pulls these boxes regularly. Without these records, district attorneys could not prosecute their cases successfully. Additionally, sentencing of these repeat offenders depends on the number of convictions found in the records; consequently, these records must be maintained. These documents are critical to law enforcement, the judicial branch, and ultimately to public safety. Public Defenders also use these records when representing their clients and do so in the pursuit of protecting their rights.
The staff of the Children, Youth, and Families Department regularly access foster care cases that are stored in the State Archives. There are approximately 1,200 cubic feet of these records in the State Archives alone. There is another 881 cubic feet in the Records Center. These records are vital in that they help protect children who have been abused. Without these records, CYFD workers would have greater difficulty in protecting our children.