28 September 2014

"Archives = Awesome!": Celebrate Archives Month with the BDC

(Please note: This is an expanded version of the article that ran in the "From the Beacon" column of the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette newspapers earlier today): 
The term “archives” refers to both an historical record and the facility that holds historical records. An historical record today can be on any medium—paper, tape, microform, photograph, electronic, or digital— to serve as proof that an event occurred, explain how something happened, or fulfill a financial or sentiment need.  In most cases, these records have significance beyond the immediate reason for their creation and use.
Archives come in all sizes and varieties.  Well run archives have a mission, trained staff, a rationale behind what gets collected and preserved, policies for sharing the materials on a regular and recurrent basis, and plans for long-term stewardship of the records it holds.  

The Beaufort District Collection (BDC) is the special local history collection and archives unit of the Beaufort County Library. It is our responsibility to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value about local history including Gullah traditions, cultural and natural history, archaeology, and genealogy of this area. Thus we concentrate on gathering and sharing information - in both traditional and modern ways - about the people, places, and themes of the area wedged between the Combahee and Savannah Rivers, from the Atlantic to approximately 50 miles inland for the period 10,000 BCE to 1964.

The BDC Research Room is a combination traditional reference room and a closed-stack archive. Customers can browse the materials in the public part of the area but the bulk of the collection is accessible only through the staff.  Staff is on hand to protect materials and guide researchers but researchers perform their own work.  However, that traditional model is transforming to include 21st century modes of service.  

Libraries and archives know how to deal with change: we’ve been doing it since 2600 BC.  Each and every work day, we assist researchers working in the Research Room and some whom we will never see in person.  Each and every day, we share Beaufort District’s long and storied history through the “Virtual BDC.” (In fact, you're reading a component of the "Virtual BDC" right now!) Find it posted under the “Local History” tab on the Library’s homepage at www.beaufortcountylibrary.org.  Letting people enjoy some of our holdings over the internet is a non-traditional way to connecting people to treasures in our archives.  

But digital libraries exist, for the most part, because of the physical treasures secured in brick-and-mortar libraries, archives, and museums watched over by flesh and blood trained librarians, archivists, and curators who protect and share treasures with others today, and who have committed to preserve and share the treasures with future generations, too.

We share because we care about the materials, the community we serve, and we are true believers that "Archives= Awesome!". The BDC keeps a challenging local history programs schedule. Recent BDC@ The Branches programs have highlighted materials from our collections about the Sea Island Hurricane of 1893, the phosphate mining industry, the Byrne Miller Papers, and practical ways to keep digital items from getting lost in the cloud.

In addition, we collaborate with the cultural heritage community locally, state-wide, and on the national level when possible.

A prime example of such collaboration arrives on October 1st when we open “Creating the Carolinas,” a traveling exhibit from the South Carolina Historical Society as the keystone for our celebration of Archives Month.  

Squabbling about South Carolina’s boundaries began 400 years ago when kings, political deals, Indian treaties, and misguided surveying helped draw the lines. Come find out just how troublesome establishing our state boundaries was. Discover the role that the Treaty of Beaufort of 1787 played in the disputes. This free exhibit showcasing treasures from the South Carolina Historical Society will be on display October 1, 2014 through Friday, January 30, 2015 in the 2nd floor lobby, 311 Scott Street. The exhibit will be open when the BDC Research Room is open, that is 10 am to 5 pm, Mondays through Fridays, except as otherwise posted. 

Join us for any or all of the lecture series to supplement the "Creating the Carolinas" exhibit:

  • Wednesday, October 22, 6 pm: Prof. Chris Judge, USC-Lancaster, returns to Beaufort to discuss the early Native Americans of our area.  Some of their paths remain our by-laws.  
  • Thursday, November 6, 6 pm: Alan-Jon Zupan and David K. Ballard of the South Carolina Geodetic Survey Commission will discuss the intricacies of establishing the state’s boundaries through the centuries.
  • TBD: A lecture on the "Treaty of Beaufort" in January 2015 with a special guest

As I wrote earlier, most of the treasures of the BDC are accessible only through the staff. Staff offer advice and researchers uses the catalog of finding aids to determine what she would like to see from the stacks. Charmaine or I go into the locked storage area to retrieve the requested materials for the researcher. Researchers are not allowed into the stacks.

Although we keep most of the collection under lock and key, we are not rabidly selfish.  We provide security for the holdings to ensure that the items will remain accessible and usable in the future.  We welcome small group tours with prior arrangement throughout the year. Ideal size is 4 to 10 people.  Call 843-255-6446 or e-mail gracec@bcgov.net to discuss scheduling, topics, and needs.

To accommodate individuals who want to learn more about how we operate and see some of the many treasures inside the BDC, once a year we offer a tour of the locked, climate controlled storage area to members of the general public over age 12. The 2014 tour is set for Saturday, October 11. This year we highlight materials about “Archives and the Natural Environment” in keeping with this 2014 theme for SC Archives Month. Because of the size of the storage area, we must limit the number of participants to 15 people. Registration is now open. The tour is free but you must register by Friday, October 10th at Noon. Call 843-255-6468 or e-mail cseabrook@bcgov.net to reserve your place.  Please: No walk-ins. 

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