In their book Managing Local Government Archives, authors John H. Slate and Kaye Lanning Minchew make the alarming claim that local government records are "among the most neglected records in the [United States]" (p. xviii). They argue that local governments are often under-resourced and unable to support robust records management or archival programs, leaving the task of preserving and providing access to archival records with staff members who do not have archival education or professional training. The objective of their book is to educate this group of individuals in an attempt to remedy the problem; the book functions as a basic overview of archives management for staff responsible for managing archives without the benefit of archival education or professional training.
The authors are in a good position to provide advice and guidance on local government records. John H. Slate has been the city archivist of Dallas, Texas, since 2000. He is a certified archivist and was named a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists in 2017. Kaye Lanning Minchew is a consultant in archives and historic preservation. She was the executive director of the Troup County Archives and Legacy Museum on Main in LaGrange, Georgia, from 1985 until 2015. Between 2007 and 2011, she co-chaired the Local Government Archives Project of the Council of State Archivists (CoSA). She is a certified archivist, a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists, and a Fellow of the Society of Georgia Archivists. Together, the authors have combined their extensive experience in a basic guide to managing local government archives. [End Page 202]
The book begins with a short history of the local government structure and local government archives across the United States, placing them within the larger context of American history. As the authors note, there are various interpretations regarding the definition of local government. For the purposes of the book, local governments include counties and parishes; municipalities and townships; school districts; water districts; transportation authorities; utilities; housing authorities; and industrial development authorities. These local government bodies provide a diverse number of services, from supplying drinking water to providing transportation services to managing waste removal and recycling programs. There are over 89,000 local governments in the United States. Despite the importance of the services they provide, archival programs are uncommon.
Local governments in the United States are diverse, with origins tied to former Spanish, Mexican, German, or French rule. The authors state that "the key to understanding the nature of the archives of a local government is to understand where that government's record-keeping traditions originated" (p. 1). The first chapter describes local government in the British colonies, multinational customs, and historical events and figures in the development of local government archives. The authors emphasize the significance of local governments in the history of the United States and argue that "governments, individual employees, and responsible citizens must do whatever is within their means to protect and preserve these valuable assets of American history" (p. 13).
The core of the book provides practical advice and definitions. Slate and Minchew describe common types of archives, the role of archives in the record-keeping process, and different options for management, including consortiums, regional archives, and transfer of records to state archives. Records management is defined, and records retention schedules are discussed, including explanations of common records series, types of records found in local government series, records of special purpose districts, issues relating to records management programs, and disposition and disposal of records.
The authors then discuss the establishment of an archives program, encouraging all local governments, regardless of resources, to preserve and provide access to records. As they emphasize, "it is not enough to simply say you have an archives" (p. 43). Functions and elements of a basic archival program are described, including administration. The ideal arrangement, they argue, is to position local government archives with a records management program. Justifications [End Page 203] for establishing an archives program are also provided to help readers understand or argue in favour of doing...