New State Library and Archives Building Needed To Preserve Our History

Wednesday, April 8, 2015
  • Governor John Sevier’s 1799 address to the state legislature discussing boundary issues, the influx of settlers to the state and commerce issues related to French control of the Mississippi River.
  • A hand-colored map drawn by then General Andrew Jackson of the decisive Battle at Horseshoe Bend against the Creek Indians in the War of 1812.  The map was included in General Jackson’s report to Governor Willie Blount.
  • The original 1796 Tennessee Constitution which Thomas Jefferson described as the “least imperfect and most republican of the state constitutions.”

These are a few examples of the priceless collections held at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA). 

Over the last six-plus years I have spent as Secretary of State, I have come to appreciate the importance of the Tennessee State Library and Archives. TSLA is the official repository of state government records, including all actions taken by the General Assembly during each legislative session. We have a legal and a moral obligation to make sure those records are stored properly and made as accessible as possible today and for future generations.

Last week, Governor Haslam submitted his supplemental appropriations amendment to the Tennessee General Assembly and the legislature will be concluding its legislative session soon. Typically one of the last items legislators approve is the state's annual budget. While the supplemental amendment did not include funding for the much needed new Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) building, I am continuing to work with legislators and hopeful the final 2015-2016 will include funding for a new building.

The current library building, which is more than 60 years old, is already at its capacity. The last available space was used when TSLA accepted the records of the 108th General Assembly's records. In addition to the legislative records, we continue to receive new documents of historical importance on a regular basis. Just because storage space in TSLA is unavailable doesn't decrease the history continually being made in our state.

If we're forced to find an offsite storage location for the records we continue to receive, then those records will be less secure and more difficult for the public to access. Plus, there's the additional cost of renting storage space, which can be considerable over time. Not to mention these records must be stored in a safe and climate-controlled environment.

With each passing year, inflation drives up the construction cost of a new building by 3 to 4 percent for each year of waiting to act on this crucial project.  

In the last sixty years, the only significant renovation to the building has been to add a fire stair. In the meantime, heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing systems are also out of date and at risk of emergency maintenance due to the constant threat of system failure. This leaves the records stored there susceptible to mold damage, which would take millions of dollars to correct.

Our present facility has very limited parking and limited space to accommodate tour groups, such as our state's schoolchildren, who could learn a lot by visiting this vast and priceless treasure trove of historical information. Access to the voluminous amount of archival material is diminished by our location and facility.

The good news is we have "shovel ready" design plans for a new building that would be located near First Tennessee Park, the new Nashville Sounds baseball stadium, along Bicentennial Mall. These plans which were first developed around 2006 have been updated and downscaled to ensure the best utilization of space and capital resources. The new design calls for about a 50 percent increase in square footage - and the new building would be better able to take advantage of that space because it would have the capacity for robotic compact storage.

The new design plans include a parking garage that has already been funded. In fact, with the legislative appropriation, the new building could start coming out of the ground within a few short months.

The Tennessee Senate's Finance, Ways and Means Committee agreed earlier this legislative session to provide enough funding to cover the new building's construction costs for the next fiscal year, and I will continue to work for funding to be included in the final budget approved by the full Senate and House of Representatives.

Tennessee continues to be a fiscally sound state, and one of the least indebted states in our nation. According to the department of revenue, our state is realizing a significant influx of one-time money.  Additionally, interest rates are at or near historic lows. I believe we are in a unique position where the critical need and the ability to fund this necessary and important project have finally intersected.

As always, I thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Secretary of State. If you have questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact my office.

Tre Hargett
Tennessee Secretary of State