How the Permian Archives has evolved

Archives/Special Collections
J. Conrad Dunagan Library

When dealing with the history of the PHS archives 1958 to 2011, paradox is folded within paradox.  It is an amazing achievement that the give-and-take between self-described amateurs, self-described old-timers, free-lance historical writers, professionally trained archivists, academics and librarians trained in other disciplines, important political and civic leaders, got  everyone “on the same page” to create and maintain a collection which has migrated to increasingly secure academic housing and supervision over the years.

The collecting and tedious technical work was done almost entirely under the hands-on supervision of two trained archivists: Betty Orbeck and Bobbie Jean Klepper with civic leader Grace King having gathered material and assisted from the beginning to the present. It is difficult to discern a pool of talent that could have produced a replacement if these ladies had not been available. At the same time, one discerns the academic mentoring of J. Tillapaugh, the late Warren Gardener, and Roger Olien without whom a salary for the archivist and an academic home for the collection would not have happened. Among veteran members is some “controversy” tinged with a little bitterness that the giant figures of J. Conrad Dunagan and John Ben Shepperd get undeserved credit for founding the PHS when they were not, in fact, charter members. But it is difficult to see how the Archives could have survived without the financial support of Dunagan and the political savvy of Shepperd.

The “message” for other archives, whose collections await processing in boxes in some garage or storeroom, is that some diverse group of persons must want to do the work and find the money and preserve the collection. The bad news for other archives is that the “cast of characters” responsible for the PHS Archives is inimitable and “shall not pass this way again.”

But while the PHS Archives has overcome many hurdles to get where it is today in reasonably sophisticated shape both for preservation and accessibility it suffers from the curse of most small and many large archives. It is in the end, a collection of old artifacts and some new books about old artifacts. At a time when it is difficult to convince patrons that the Internet does not replace all print materials; it is more difficult than ever to convince patrons that unique documents and audio and visual materials which are not on websites are important.  The monthly patron count has doubled since 2007, sometimes with 100 contacts a month. But the majority of these are e-mail “ready reference” type and may not even require materials be consulted. In mid-April 2011, there is a “return to stacks” cart of 20 items patrons have asked for and used just in the last few days. But that is a rare burst of in-person activity.

With limited budget, staff, and time, some efforts have been made to get material scanned or digitized into computer files, on CD-ROM’s and DVD’s, and even have a sampling online. All authorities, local, UT System, and Bobbie Klepper in retirement, agree that this is the future need. –Terry Shults
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Recent Activity Report from Archives/Special Collections

The Archives/Special Collections continues to grow and gain a degree of respect which owes much to the 40 year stewardship of Betty Orbeck and Bobbie Klepper, and something to the varied staff in the twenty-first century. Nanci Harris and Loretta Hartsell had to be “sacrificed” and moved from Archival Assistants to duties in Technical Services but still provide valuable backup. New Library Systems Administrator Jim Tuttle has provided valuable support, not least in setting up and training to scan photos from the collections. With several overlapping projects and requests, 209 photos have been scanned and 30 of those shared a second time for additional requestors.

363 patrons were served. Materials used: 8 folders, 1 box, 13 monographs, 1 reel of RHRD microfilm. 196 pages were Xeroxed or scanned.

Retired members of the Texas Historical Commission requested photos and information on John Ben Shepperd and the Jackrabbit for a book they are writing. UTPB President Watts asked the Head of Technical Services to be the contact person for an Ector County history book project and the photo selection and advertisement text approval were completed. A valuable collection of Texas-Mexican race relations material was donated.

The Archives assumed temporary stewardship of a fragile set of documents at the request of the owner: a book of drafts of letters written by the U. S. Commercial Agent at Piedras Negras during the last years of the Juarez government and the early years of Diaz. Tai Kreidler and two colleagues came down from Texas Tech to look at the material and help plan possible preservation and scanning (and translation for the Spanish and German portions of the letters). They had very kind things to say about the scope and management of the collections.

Some time ago, President Watts asked for input on the possibility of UTPB acquiring the Presidential  Museum. There  has been a recent article in the Odessa American and  two somewhat contradictory personal communications from people at the Museum. When there is definitive official word, a special report will be e-mailed to this list.

Respectfully submitted,
Terrance G. “Terry” Shults
Head of Technical Services, J. Conrad Dunagan Library