An Update on the DRT’s Fight to Keep Its Library Collection and Archives

Posted on Posted in February 2016

An Update on the DRT’s Fight to Keep Its Library Collection and Archives

The trial date for the DRT litigation against the Texas General Land Office (GLO) over ownership of the DRT Library Collection has been rescheduled for April 11, 2016. The case has been reassigned to Judge Michael Peden to be tried in the 288th District Court of Bexar County. The DRT is currently in discussions with the GLO and its attorneys in an attempt to find a satisfactory resolution to the dispute and avoid protracted and expensive litigation, but the organization does not intend to back down from its defense of a collection that dates back to the early days of its existence. The organization is also moving forward with plans to move the collection to a site in San Antonio that will be announced in the near future.

How We Got Here

When the state ended the Daughters’ 106-year custodianship of the Alamo, it was a bittersweet time for the DRT. The Daughters cherished their long history of managing the Shrine, but recognized that a greater role from the state was required to address its increasing financial needs.

While the Daughters were pleased to see the state’s heightened interest, the membership was shocked by what would follow — an attempt by the GLO to claim jurisdiction over the DRT’s Library Collection. GLO Commissioner Bush claimed entitlement to this private property after holding office just 10 weeks. His claim conflicts with events in 2013, when the DRT documented its ownership of collection items to the GLO with acquisition records it has retained for decades.

As background, the Daughters began assembling and managing the collection in 1945. The collection today has more than 38,000 books, maps and historical documents. It is housed on the Alamo grounds in a separate facility the Daughters built and furnished with private funds around 1950. It is open to the public, and is heavily used and well-regarded by Texas authors, historians and archivists.

The Daughters acquired items for the Library Collection over the years through private donations made to the DRT, and through purchases from private and organizational funds. Donations are often given in memory of one of the organization’s passed members, or to honor a member, family or friends. The DRT has maintained records of these acquisitions. For these reasons, and to abide by the DRT’s original mission to educate about the history of Texas, the DRT feels deeply obligated to protect its oversight of the library.

A Conflict of Interest?

As additional background, GLO auditors for Commissioner Bush’s predecessor, who are financial accountants and not trained archivists or librarians, reviewed acquisition records for a sample of 300 items from the collection. They instituted a default mechanism: If an auditor subjectively believed a record did not meet archival standards, which they did not define, the item defaulted to state ownership. The GLO auditors then extrapolated their conclusions to all 38,000 items in the collection.

An independent expert previously employed by the state of Texas as its top archivist reviewed the DRT’s documentation in 2014 and challenged the conclusions reached by GLO auditors, suggesting the agency might have a conflict of interest in determining ownership. The DRT does not know if Commissioner Bush was shown the expert’s report that addressed the auditors’ methodologies and conclusions.

In any event, after Commissioner Bush announced entitlement to the library collection in March 2015, the GLO placed immediate restrictions on the DRT’s access to its collection. The DRT sensed an imminent lockout and reluctantly filed suit in order to retain oversight of the library.

It Gets Worse

As if the GLO’s behavior to date wasn’t enough, additional actions not only deepened the DRT’s disappointment in the agency and its leader, but also eroded confidence in matters dear to this state: the right to own private property with no fear of a governmental taking.

As the DRT had expected in March, the GLO locked out the DRT from the library. Discovery in the lawsuit establishes the GLO entered the building on Sunday, August 23, 2015, and changed the locks. When library staff arrived on Monday, August 24, their security credentials had been deactivated. The GLO told DRT Library staff they must become state employees. All declined. The first to arrive was made to gather his things and, after 27 years of loyal service, was escorted off the Alamo premises by a GLO marshal.

The DRT obtained a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Commissioner Bush and the GLO later that morning that restored the DRT staff’s access to the library. When the library director arrived back at the library, she walked in on two state information technology (IT) contractors downloading DRT Library materials from DRT-owned computers onto external hard drives. The DRT’s computers were password-protected. The GLO-hired contractors acknowledged they had overridden the DRT’s passwords or, more impolitely, hacked into the computers, in order to copy DRT information at a time the state thought the building would be empty because of the lockout. The state contractors left with their external hard drives, but later returned them. They had been erased, making it hard to know the extent of the materials the state had taken. A GLO-employed marshal was there but would not stop either their hacking or downloading.

Archivists Rally to Support the Daughters

Members of the state’s archivist community have committed to writing their validation of the Daughters’ management and preservation of the collection. They are critical of the GLO’s actions and are concerned Commissioner Bush’s conduct could jeopardize established practices of private ownership recognized by libraries and universities across the state. They are also disappointed the GLO’s actions will deprive individuals the pleasure and significance of researching our state’s history while on the Alamo grounds. Because of the commissioner’s announcement in March, the DRT is contractually obligated to the state to remove the library collection from the Alamo by July 2016.

A Separate Collection

During this dispute, the DRT has made clear it is not attempting to claim the magnificent Alamo artifacts and relics as part of its library collection. The rifles, knives, bullets, cannons, flags and other items donated to the Alamo were carefully preserved by the DRT for the past 106 years as part of its custodial role. The DRT ensured those items were properly identified as state-owned on the state-mandated property listing. Since 2011 the state has controlled those items, removing some to storage. The same is true for the remarkable items donated to the Alamo by Phil Collins.

The DRT Library Collection is a completely separate collection. Its items are not on the listing of state-owned property.

Protecting What Belongs to the Daughters

The GLO’s attempt to claim ownership of the DRT Collection is wrong and amounts to an overreach by the government to claim private property.

The Daughters are not looking for special treatment. The DRT enjoyed its long custodianship, but after managing the shrine of Texas independence with minimal state funding, it now only wants to retain what it has always owned: its beloved library collection.

The organization’s leadership and board of management remain firm in their commitment to continue to fight the state’s unjust and unwarranted attempt to take control of the DRT Library Collection.

Please consider sitting down now and writing a check for $50 or more to contribute to the DRT Library Collection Legal Fund. With your help, we will be able to fully fund the legal battle that will be necessary to preserve what is ours. To make a donation using your credit card or PayPal, click here.