Caroline Fry is working in Special Collections for the next three weeks as part of a for-credit internship through Georgia College. She is a junior majoring in Management Information Systems.
Although Special Collections is for the most part practically perfect in every way, mistakes still manage to occur every now and then — and sometimes they’re beyond our control. Recently we received several boxes of papers from Central State Hospital that belonged to Payton B. Cook, a clinical chaplain at the hospital from the 1960s-1990s who passed away in 1998 (you can read more about him here). Yesterday, we got a call saying that the Payton B. Cook papers that we acquired from the Central State Local Redevelopment Authority needed to be returned because we do not have the proper clearance to keep it at Georgia College. It turns out that when Mike Couch, the executive director of the Central State Local Redevelopment Authority, notified and gave us the papers, he thought that we had already signed an agreement with the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities giving us clearance to have the contents. On our end, we assumed that he had already cleared it with the department before notifying us about the collection. Miscommunication is universal. In summary, the state didn’t technically give the papers to us, so we have to send them back and see if we get permission to acquire them again.
To put this situation into technical terms, Special Collections was not certified for chain of custody to hold Rev. Cook’s papers. We lacked legal custody of the collection and have to return it back to the Central State Hospital Museum while we wait for clearance to repossess the items.
Meanwhile, this summer Holly and Nancy will be doing inventory at the Central State Hospital Museum and will turn the items over to Behavioral Health. Once the department goes through the items, they will decide what pieces Georgia College will be able to keep. If the state does decide to give us Rev. Cook’s collection back, we will ensure that his collection will remain completely separate from any new items we receive from the museum under the archival principle of provenance. While it’s important to keep records from different origins separated to prevent confusion, it’s also important for Rev. Cook’s records to be separated because he wrote on most of his papers, which doubles their significance.
Two Georgia laws related to the records inspection and management of state agencies are the Georgia Records Act and the Georgia Open Records Act. Over 200 Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities retention schedules can be found here. Several of these schedules relate to Central State Hospital such as the Employee Medical Files, Food Service Reporting Files, Patient Medical Record Index Files, etc.
Although we are sad to see Payton’s collection go, we are hopeful that the state will give us approval to obtain the records in the future. This experience has served as a strong lesson learned about the importance of communication and verifying permissions.
Farewell, Rev. Cook. It was a pleasure getting to know you. Hope to see more of you soon.