By Rebecca Denne, Special Projects Archivist, South Carolina Political Collections, University of South Carolina
“Outreach.” Regularly tossed around at departmental meetings and conferences, how can we put this buzzword into action? We know we have interesting collections, and we know where the fun stuff is stashed. Presenting our records in accessible and meaningful ways is at the foundation of our roles as archivists and at the heart of a strong outreach program.
As the new Special Projects Archivist for South Carolina Political Collections at USC, I divide my attention between curating exhibits, processing complex collections, and developing our outreach. When I started at SCPC three months ago I was blown away by the size, variety, and richness of our collections. Imagine you’re a USC student beginning your research and faced with 130+ collections. Where would you start?
USC’s library, like many academic libraries, subscribes to SpringShare’s content management system LibGuides. LibGuides are essential tools for supporting instruction, research, and technology integration at our university’s library. Librarians use them to organize subject-specific resources which, for many students, could be the primary gateway to discovering all relevant resources the library subscribes to and collects on a topic.
At SCPC, we’re creating LibGuides for popular subjects and to supplement some of our exhibits in an effort to better reach our users. The LibGuides offer new ways for users to engage with our records, and we think they can be a great research springboard. We currently have ten guides, and we’re working on another focused on how to use SCPC and archives in general.
Suppose a student wants to do their capstone project on some aspect of immigration. Our "Immigration in South Carolina" guide could set them on a number of investigative paths. Had they considered refugees and orphans of the Vietnam War? What about Jewish migration during World War II? Often, the unique ways in which our collections intersect and relate to one another isn’t immediately apparent from the finding aids. By curating these LibGuides, we hope to spark new and exciting research ideas for our users.
Overall, we’ve found that there are a number of benefits to using the platform:
- Flex it. LibGuides’ flexible format allows us to bring both library and archival resources together under a single subject. This helps users to more easily understand special collections as part of the library system at large and promotes the discovery of archival material. If a professor provides us some basic information about their course topic, we can even develop a LibGuide just for their class.
- All about those stats. On the backend, LibGuides provides valuable usage reports. We can see how many people have viewed the guide as well as how often the links within the guides (assets) have been accessed. Our ten guides have only been up for two months, and we’ve already had over 250 hits! We could use these statistics to make more informed decisions when prioritizing digitization projects or planning exhibits based on our users’ interests.
Stats from our Desegregation in South Carolina Schools LibGuide show the guide was viewed 57 times between August 22 and September 27, 2017.
- Getting social. We can include links to our Facebook, Twitter, and blog, giving students even more opportunities to connect and stay up to date.
- Show us the formats. We can provide text, include polls, link to finding aids, direct to the library’s catalog, and embed photographs from an easy-to-use platform.
Please feel free to check out our LibGuides
By Katie Gray, Archivist, Charleston County Public Library
October 7, 2017. High noon. An important professional decision lay before me. I brought to bear my years of experience, knowledge, professional detachment, and discernment. It was a difficult task, but in consultation with the head of our IT department, as well as an Imperial scout and a Rebel princess, a decision was made…
First prize at the Star Wars Reads Day costume competition went to the cutest Jawa this side of Tatooine.
Photos courtesy of Charleston County Public Library.
Clearly, judging costume contests is not a typical task for an archivist. It certainly isn’t covered in Hunter’s Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives. And you‘d be hard pressed to find Star Wars mentioned at all in the professional archival literature. However, this is a task I undertake every fall, and one that I look forward to with delight.
One of the many advantages of working as an archivist in a public library is the opportunity to reach beyond prescribed archival duties and connect with the community on a personal (and oftentimes fun) level. Over the years, I have worked at senior fairs and community gatherings, at Pride festivals and Friends of the Library book sales. I helped stage a fake rare books heist for a Sherlock Holmes mystery lock-in and taught teens about papermaking and bookbinding during summer book camp. Participating in these events has allowed me to bring a little bit of archives and history into everyday library events, which works well, because, in Charleston, no matter where you are or what the occasion, people are always happy to talk about history.
On the surface, it may seem difficult to justify the use of archival staff time for programming and outreach not specifically dedicated to archives and special collections. Of course, an archivist in a public library must still undertake those duties that are the bedrock of the archival profession: arrangement and description, reference and research, cataloging and conservation, and everything in between. As is the case in so many archival institutions, staffing is limited, and responsibilities are numerous. However, the time spent contributing to programs outside the archives can be a good investment for the professional development of the department and the staff.
In practical terms, participating in collaborative public library programming affords the archivist the opportunity to expand the archives’ outreach to groups that normally would not be archives users and at numbers not often seen at archival events. (1900 people at Star Wars Reads Day alone!) It is an excellent way to build internal, institutional interest in the archives and advocate for its importance to the institution, the users, and the community. It also encourages the creation of robust, collaborative relationships with library colleagues. When I first started working in the archive over 10 years ago, I frequently heard, from both staff and patrons, “We have an archive?” “What do you do back there?” or even “Do you collect fines?” (when we were still called Special Collections). Now, thanks to concerted outreach efforts by the archives staff and the historian, staff and patrons know who we are and what we can do for the community.
I take seriously my duty to preserve and make accessible the historical materials that document the public history of the city and county of Charleston. However, I am also cognizant that the work that I do is in support of the overall mission of my institution: to connect our diverse community to information, foster lifelong learning, and enrich lives. I gladly fulfill my dual role as archivist and public librarian. Every connection I make is an opportunity to both educate the community and to cultivate new archives users. After all, you never know who may grow up to be the next great historian or archivist.
Photos courtesy of Charleston County Public Library.
By April Akins, University Archivist, Lander University
Each summer, Lander University’s incoming freshman class attend one of several orientation sessions. During the sessions, they are given time to explore the history of Lander through an experience with the Lander University Archives. Over the years, with the increase in freshman enrollment finding ways to make this experience exciting and meaningful has become challenging. This summer there were over 750 students to embark on a walk down memory lane. In order to give the students an opportunity to see the archival materials as well as gain knowledge of Lander’s 145-year history, I created the “Lander through the Decades” museum exhibit with the help of a student worker, Janie Sullivan, senior Lander University History Major.
Many students come to Lander having never experienced a museum before so in an effort to provide a learning experience for the students, materials were arranged into mini museum exhibits and placed behind glass on tables within our large group study room. Each mini exhibit was arranged to include several decades sharing highlights of Lander’s history through artifacts and manuscripts. A timeline was displayed to give students further details of events that occurred during the time of the materials. Setting up the museum in this format allowed not only the incoming freshman to view the materials but faculty, staff, and community members were also given an opportunity to see the materials. This was a great way to make the Lander community aware of the archives.
One lesson learned from this project is the need to provide more direction to the orientation leaders that guide the students through the museum. The communication that was shared with the leaders was not clear enough. There seemed to be confusion in how to view the materials. In the past, materials had been placed on tables and display cases out in the open allowing students to touch and browse the materials in a more hands on approach. With preservation in mind, the experience was moved behind glass and set up as a museum to not only provide the “museum experience” for students but to show the importance of preserving the materials. The glass barrier (and locked door) provided safety and security of the archival materials.
One idea for a spin off from this project that was received from a faculty member is to create a virtual museum exhibit with these same materials. The suggestion included having a mass communication and/or a computer science student work to create a digital replication of the exhibit that could be included in our freshman experience course’s online materials. This would also allow us to place the museum on our archives website to provide another avenue to access our materials.
A mascot costume and commencement invitations make up part of the Lander Through the Decades exhibit on display at the Lander University Archives in the Larry Jackson Library.
By Luke Meagher
“World War One: At Home and Abroad” — on display September 22 until December 18, 2017 in the lower level gallery at the Sandor Teszler Library, Wofford College, Spartanburg —shares perspectives of local, regional, national, and international life during The Great War. Through the presentation of facsimiles and originals from Wofford College's Archives and Special Collections the exhibit tells how the war affected the College as well as the city of Spartanburg. Several unique items on display also provide global context for the war.
Wofford's exhibit is accompanied in the gallery by a travelling exhibit developed by faculty and the library at Sewanee: University of the South and funded by the Associated Colleges of the South. The travelling exhibit features narrative historical context and facsimiles of historical items regarding the stateside political and legal environment surrounding the war,with special attention to what life was like for Germans and German-Americans in the U.S. when President Woodrow Wilson declared war on April 6, 1917, a time when domestic anti-German sentiment was already pervasive.
By Karen Emmons, Archivist/Librarian, Historic Charleston Foundation
In July, I received a phone call from Birmingham, Alabama, regarding a donation of historic documents pertaining to the house at 72 Tradd Street in Charleston, the earliest of which dated back to 1765. The call was from the son of the owners of the house from 1980-1995 who discovered the collection of documents among the belongings of his recently deceased mother. I accepted the donation as it seemed like it would enhance the documentation already on file for the large double tenement known as the Fotheringham-McNeil Tenements. My hunch was right! About a week later, the large package arrived, and secured between two wooden covers of this giant book was an archive of several historic deeds and other property conveyance documents dating from 1765 to 1960. These documents represent the entire ownership history of 72-74 Tradd during that time period.
But questions remained: Who had assembled this amazing book and why and how did it end up in Alabama? All of the documents were contained in protective sleeves and many of the oldest ones appeared to have been mended and conserved. The wood cover was carefully crafted, with the address etched onto the front. It was obvious that whoever assembled the book did so out of love for both the house and for the documents. I and my colleague Katherine Pemberton (HCF's Manager of Research & Education) marveled over the contents as we went through the book page-by-page to try to discover a clue. It was there, on the last page … a blueprint drawn for Mr. and Mrs. Thomas E. Thornhill.
Thomas (“Tommy”) Thornhill is well-known and beloved by Historic Charleston Foundation. He is a long-time preservationist, serving on HCF’s Board of Trustees for almost 30 years (including 3 years as president), and he continues to be active. Katherine and I immediately felt that it had to have been Mr. Thornhill who had assembled the book. And so another hunch became reality when Katherine called Mr. Thornhill to tell him about the donation. As soon as she said the words “package from Birmingham,” he knew exactly what the phone call was about and was overjoyed that his beloved book had returned home at last.
As it turns out, Mr. Thornhill had acquired all of the deeds, etc., upon purchasing the house in 1958, and he had the foresight to send the oldest documents to the SC Dept. of Archives & History for conservation. Next, he and his wife stitched three sides of the protective sleeves that had been made. The documents were inserted into the sleeves, thus further protecting them from wear-and-tear. The sleeves were then bound between the two wood covers, held in place by screws, making it possible to easily remove the sleeves. Photographs that illustrate some of the changes made to the house were also added. And finally, using a wood-burning tool, Mr. Thornhill etched the title 72 Tradd onto the cover.
It turns out that the book had been gifted to the new owners when the Thornhills sold it but when the house was left vacant for some time in the 1980s, Mr. Thornhill tried to retrieve it. The owner refused but he didn’t give up and for many years, even after she moved to Birmingham, he continued trying to convince her to return the book to him to no avail. As Mr. Thornhill shared with me and Katherine, “I never stopped thinking about that book or wishing it would return to Charleston.”
Mr. Thornhill’s wish came true and so the book he created has come full circle. The "story" of 72 Tradd Street has come home in remarkable condition! Hopefully, the book will be digitized and added to HCF's many collections on the Lowcountry Digital Library. The original will remain safe in HCF’s Archives and accessible to researchers.
Thomas Thornhill with the book containing documents regarding the Fotheringham-McNeil Tenements in Charleston, SC.
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