The State Library and Archives of Texas: A History, 1835-1962

By David B. Gracy II. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2010. 264 pp. $45.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-0-292-72201-9.

We owe a debt of thanks to David Gracy for his history of the Texas State Library and Archives. This was one of the early state archival agencies that emerged in Southern states around the turn of the twentieth century, providing a focus for improving programs for government records and manuscripts. The publication of Gracy’s book is important in itself. The scholarly literature about American archives includes too few works on the profession’s history. We need more studies on U.S. archives’ social, intellectual, and institutional foundations, and the developments in all these aspects, to help us understand today’s archival conditions.

Celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of the agency that Texas established in 1909, Gracy’s history traces the origins of Texas’s state library and archives back to the earliest days of the Texas Republic. His chronological treatment begins with an insightful preface in which he surveys the national field of similar state agencies and discusses their essential character and functions. Most of the book, however, follows the fortunes of Texas’s state librarians and their staff as they tried to fulfill citizens’, legislators’, and governors’ expectations while answering to the members of the Texas Library and Historical Commission.

In many respects, this is a story familiar to many state librarians and archivists today. Above all, Gracy narrates in great detail the episodes that amount to “the lip service the state’s leaders gave to libraries and archives—professing how important they were, just not now and not at that cost” (20). What makes the Texas version of this problem different is its pioneering attempt to combine in one state agency the distinct functions of a legislative reference service, a state archives, and a statewide library service.

The struggle to meet this broad, varied mission and the progress of one of the three functions at the expense of the others make up the bulk of Gracy’s book. After the first chapter concerning the birth of the state agency in 1909, Gracy discusses only intermittently the groups that became the primary supporters of the state library and archives: librarians, Texas historians and history enthusiasts, and women’s clubs. Organizing his narrative by the terms of successive state librarians, he concentrates his analysis instead on the debates among members of the Library and Historical Commission, legislators, and governors. In addition to the constant issue of resources, these debates dealt with selection of the director of the agency, qualifications for staff members, and the balancing of the multiple functions the Texas legislature assigned to the library and archives.

Gracy’s emphasis and approach is inevitably dry, but he sprinkles a few colorful personalities and instructive clashes on the dusty debates of government policies and budget processes. Governor James Ferguson brazenly makes patronage appointments to the state library and archives during his 1914–18 term of office. State Librarian Francis Henshaw, the first non-Texan appointed to his position and a skilled promoter of the library and archives, projects an ambitious records-microfilming plan in 1946, only to resign four years later in the face of staunch resistance from Commissioner Virginia Gambrell. Improvising records storage while seeking a building designed for that purpose, agency heads stash the archives of Texas government in Quonset huts, Austin warehouses, and a cow barn.

Gracy ends his history with the dedication and opening in 1962 of the State Library and Archives building on the grounds of the state capitol, the culmination of a ten-year effort and the fulfillment of a much older vision dear to the Texas champions of state history and library services. In two ways, this auspicious occasion makes an appropriate ending for Gracy’s centennial study. At any point in this era, a facility designed for library and archives functions that also serves as the home of an archives agency represents a great victory in the struggle for resources as well as a noteworthy symbolic achievement. Gaining a building for the state archives also reminds us how long the Texas struggle for adequate archival resources lasted and how such basic support for public archives continues to be the greatest challenge for the archival profession today.

Peter Gottlieb, University of Wisconsin-Madison