New Collection in the Archives! The American Bankruptcy Institute papers
Written by Hoang Tran, ABI Project Archivist
The National Bankruptcy Archives recently acquired the records of the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI). The organization was formally founded in 1982 by Harry Dixon Jr. (1944-2006), a lawyer from Nebraska. The idea of the bankruptcy organization came after Dixon saw the ineffectiveness of the various insolvency organizations during the consideration of the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978. Dixon was determined to establish a cohesive and effective bankruptcy organization with the dual purpose of providing Congress with expert and unbiased views on legislation and creating an institution that could keep the bankruptcy community aware of legislative activities affecting them.
In 1983, ABI had a modest start of only 51 members. After three decades of continuous hard work building their reputation, ABI now has over 13,000 members that include attorneys, bankers, judges, and other bankruptcy professionals. Dixon’s goal to establish a premier organization devoted to independent research and legislative analysis on bankruptcy issues in America was finally realized. With a proven track record of providing reliable and unbiased information, ABI has become the nation’s leading provider of quality bankruptcy educational programs, legislative analyses, and white papers. ABI also provides testimonies and remarks for Congressional staff members and committees.
As project archivist, I was hired in late January 2014 to process the collection which included surveying the 11 banker boxes, analyzing the contents for format and subject areas, and determining the overall organizational structure of the collection.
Fortunately, the ABI records were fairly organized when donated to the archives. The records were also in stable condition and did not require any serious preservation measures. I proceeded with the physical and intellectual arrangement, the description, and the creation of a finding aid using Archivists’ Toolkit for the collection (20 linear feet).
Processing the collection presented some unique challenges in terms of arrangement and description. I found I had to reconstruct how the materials were initially organized by ABI without disturbing the original order too much, but also arrange the collection in a coherent manner to facilitate ease of access to researchers. Some portions of the collections were obvious such as the Board of Director biographies and Press Files which were clearly labeled and filed alphabetically. However, the legislative materials, which comprise the bulk of the collection, were dispersed throughout the 11 boxes. Some records did not have folders which required figuring out what the records were and where they belonged in the arrangement. Although folder labels are nice and have neatly printed title, they simply are not practical for long term preservation in archives. In fact, a majority of the folder labels in the collection simply fell off during processing due to deterioration of the adhesive. This is another reason why archivists use pencils to write descriptive information (metadata) on folders.
Overall, working with the records revealed a trove of significant materials documenting ABI’s history and operating activities as well as their professional activities, publications, and research efforts on bankruptcy related matters. The records specifically provide a unique perspective into ABI’s research and analysis process in all major bankruptcy policy changes from 1985 well into the 1990s.
The materials date from 1982-2013, with the bulk of the records from 1985 to 1996. Materials are largely in paper format, comprising correspondence, memos, facsimiles, resumes/c.v., financial records, by-laws, articles of incorporation, certificates, lease agreement, newsletters, marketing materials, clippings, press releases, scripts, white papers, meeting files which typically include agendas, minutes, and sign-in sheets, conference and seminar material, Library of Congress reports, information bulletins, Congressional reports, records, and bills, court records, briefs, procedures, Congressional hearing testimonies and remarks, publications, monographs, and other related printed matter. The records also include audiovisual materials such as photographs, VHS tapes, audio cassette tapes, DVDs, and CDs.
The bulk of the collection is comprised of records that document the organization’s educational and research activities on a wide-range of bankruptcy related issues affecting consumer and commercial bankruptcy law and the bankruptcy system. Some of the significant bankruptcy topics represented in these files are the U.S. Trustee Program; Chapter 12 Family Farmer Bankruptcy; additional bankruptcy judgeships; the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984 (BAFJA) including the Bankruptcy Survey Project conducted by the ABI after the BAFJA went into effect; judicial salaries; leveraged buyouts; pension plans and retirement benefits; proposed amendments to bankruptcy rules and forms; significant Supreme Court cases; testimonies before various Congressional committees from 1989-1996; and a number of videos (VHS) feature ABI members. The records demonstrate ABI’s commitment to providing unbiased analysis and research in the insolvency field.
The collection is now open to the research community. The finding aid can be found here. If you are interested in learning more about this collection, please email or stop by the Archives!