The Dallas Library's Archives Division is Trying to Make It Easier to Find the Past

Late yesterday afternoon, I sent Steve Gaither, the special collections librarian in the Texas/Dallas History & Archives Division downtown, a picture whose origins were mysterious; I thought he could help, and, sure enough, he's spent a good long while late into Tuesday tracking its roots. (I'll post it later.) But while on the archives division's home page, I noticed that in recent weeks the library has added several new "manuscript collection finding guides," which detail the contents of archives that have been donated to the city and include everything from biographies and backgrounders to detailed tables of contents laying out both the nitty and gritty contained within the boxes of yellowed you-name-its.

At present there are 141 such guides online, from an Abstract of Title Records to the Zonta Club of Dallas. But in the last few weeks, the library has added some high-profile collections to the online database, including guides for the Sanger-Harris, Forest Avenue High School and Hollywood Heights collections. Says Gaither, "The collections are less visible unless we have a finding guide online, [and] we're trying to get the ones that might get the most attention up first."

But the bigger question is: When will the library create a digital repository of documents? Probably much, much later than any time sooner. "We'd love to scan the documents," Gaither says, "and it's something we've talked about, with the photographs collection as just the first step. ... In the future, we're definitely looking to do more digitization." But a $190-million budget shortfall likely to cut library hours -- if not shutter some altogether, at least temporarily -- will push that project to the backburner, if not off the stove entirely.