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-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law



Thursday, March 26, 2015

Who Owns the Library? The New Battle of the Alamo

This week the Daughters of the Republic of Texas  (DRT) filed a lawsuit against the General Land Office of Texas. The petition, filed in the 407th Bexar County District Court, alleges that the General Land Office and the State of Texas have illegally claimed ownership of the DRT’s library collection as an unconstitutional  taking of private property. 

The dispute arose after the Texas Legislature, in 2011, turned over responsibility for the “preservation, maintenance, and restoration of the Alamo complex,” (Act of May 30, 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., ch. 1046, § 2, 2011 Tex. Gen. Laws 2676) from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas to the state’s General Land Office (GLO). In June 2010, the Office of the Attorney General began an investigation of the DRT’s management of the Alamo. Once the investigation began, public scrutiny and highly publicized structural problems at the Alamo prompted the Texas legislature to act and end the DRT’s stewardship of the Alamo before the investigation was complete.  The law mandated that the General Land Office and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas enter an agreement that would detail the management, operation, and financial support of the Alamo complex. After the legislation transferred stewardship from DRT, the Attorney General issued its report detailing  the organization’s failures as trustees, which provides a lengthy discussion of the problems that the DRT library presents. 

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library opened in 1945, and the current library building, located on the grounds of the Alamo complex, and was built with DRT funds and opened in 1950. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library is a non-circulating research library of Texas history, with particular emphasis on the republic period and on the Alamo and San Antonio history. The collections include books, newspapers and periodicals, family papers, genealogical records, documents, maps, architectural renderings, clipping files, fine arts, artifacts, and photographs. These items have been donated to the library since it opened with the donations of Dr. William Eager Howard, who provided the nucleus of its collection. The collection has grown to include over 38,000 items either donated or purchased with donated funds. 

According to the 2012 Attorney General’s report, the state believes the DRT Library wrongly asserts ownership over state-owned artifacts and that state funds were improperly used to operate the library. After the General Land Office began its oversight of the Alamo complex, the parties agreed that the collection would be inventoried and the appropriate owner of the items would be determined. In their petition, the Daughters of the Republic of Texas in their petition, argue that the State and the General Land Office used biased methodology to improperly claim ownership of many items in the collection. The DRT is asking the court to enter a declaratory judgment finding that the majority of the items in the collection were intentionally donated to the DRT library, and not the State of Texas. 

The current conflict begs the question of how the Daughters of the Republic of Texas became the custodians of the Alamo complex. The uneasy relationship between the DRT and the State of Texas began at the dawn of the 20th century, and its strange legal history is the subject of tomorrow’s blog. 

2 comments:

  1. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library was built with a donation from my grandmother, Sallie Ward Beretta, in memory of her husband, John King Beretta. Her intent is obvious in her dedication on December 2, 1950, that was printed on the program: to give funds to the DRT to build a library that the state of Texas had refused to fund. The library to house all the collections donated to the DRT that would be available for perpetuity. She did not envision a day that the government would intervene a la George Orwell's 1984. I think this entire episode could change the face of philanthropy in the United States. I mean, who would give any money to any charitable organization if the government can step in and take it away? Jackie Beretta

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