21 July 2008

Vertical Files 101: Definition of "Vertical File"

What is a vertical file?
A vertical file is a collection of articles, pamphlets, clippings, programs, menus, posters, etc. that is maintained (often within a library or archives setting) to answer brief questions or to provide points of information not easily located. (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary).
In a regular library, vertical file materials are clippings, brochures, ticket stubs, etc. that are of considerable interest today. Students often have to do reports on current events or topics. Since librarians like to help customers, if the same subject comes up several times within a short period of time, you can just about stake the bank that one of the librarians is putting together a vertical file folder labeled whatever the "topic of the day" happens to be. Every so often, someone cleans out the "topic of the day" file, adds newer materials, takes out out of date materials, decides whether or not the Library should continue to maintain that vertical file of related materials. Because hot topics change frequently, it is not at all uncommon for a library vertical file to have a very short shelf life, say 3 to 5 years, tops.

Not so when the materials are added to a series of historical vertical files. Historical vertical files tend to be more focused on a limited range of topics or limited to a specific geographical area. Historical vertical files are meant to be maintained, added to, and preserved for the future.

Did you notice that nothing gets taken out?
Historical vertical files are meant to be maintained indefinitely. They are supposed to show a researcher what was happening, how folks felt about it, what the questions and controversies were, and what other folks thought about the same person, place, thing, event etc. 10, 15 23 years later. Historical vertical files are forever.

In the case of the Beaufort District Collection, we collect and maintain 881 vertical files on historical, cultural, or environmental topics that directly relate to people, places, issues, organizations, themes, eras, or issues of local importance. We add new vertical file titles as we need them. We might re-label a specific vertical file, or create several new vertical files from one that has grown too large for the folders, but we never, ever destroy contents of historical vertical files. The number will only keep growing as the breadth, depth and scope of 21st century life unfolds.
  • BDC Vertical files are "Forever."
  • Historical vertical files are the core of the entire BDC!
  • BDC Historical vertical files are the most used segment of the materials we offer.
  • The priority #1 materials that BDC staff protects and prepares for hurricane evacuations are the extensive local history BDC vertical files.
You can use the term "vertical file" in the catalog search box and bring up the entire gamut of titles within the BDC Vertical File Collection. I think that you'll find the scope of the folder titles within the vertical files interesting, if not, breath-taking. 881 files and counting is a lot of folder titles!

Call us or e-mail us if you have questions about the contents of a particular vertical file. Our telephone number is 843-470-6525. Our e-mail addresses are: gracec@bcgov.net or ashorthouse@bcgov.net.

The Beaufort District Collection is a division of the Beaufort County Library, a department of Beaufort County Government of South Carolina.

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