16 October 2016

Celebrate Archives Month with the BDC

The Beaufort District Collection is the Beaufort County Library’s special local history collection and archives unit but what does that actually mean? October is Archives Month. And though we missed participating in the “Ask an Archivist Day” on October 5th because we had bugged out in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, we want to take this opportunity to explain a bit about what an archives is and does. Almost everyone knows what a library is but sometimes people get a bit confused about what an archives is.

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. The records are then grouped and described into logical categories according to archival principles.

Archives come in all sizes and varieties. Most have the goal of providing records in a wondrous array of formats that help explain some aspect of human civilization. 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. Its collection development policy determines what and why it collects certain types of records – and enforces those limits.

While geography was Pat Conroy’s wound, in the BDC it provides our boundaries for collecting materials for the special collections and archives unit of the Beaufort County Library. Here in the BDC, the key criteria are geography (the area covered by the Beaufort Judicial District in 1769) and time (the period of human occupation in this area).

The BDC is the special local history collection and archives unit of the Beaufort County Library. Thus we have a 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 within our research collection of permanent value about local history including Gullah traditions, cultural and natural history, archaeology, and genealogy of this area. Accordingly, 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 15,000 BCE to 1966.

The purpose of the Beaufort District Collection is to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value that chronicles, illustrates, and illuminates our local history. We have biographies and other nonfiction books, maps, video materials and archival collections about local history including Gullah traditions, natural history, archaeology, and genealogy and other topics relevant to Beaufort, Hampton and Jasper Counties. Our goal is to provide a solid starting point for others aged 12 and above to explore their own interests in these topics.  

To tell the story of our lives and those of our ancestors in a full, truthful, and unbiased manner, we need not only to ask "What did we do?" but also "Why did we do it?" and "What were our thoughts and motivation as we did it?" While library materials can tell you what someone else thinks about what happened and why, archival materials let the people who lived the event speak for themselves. 

Archivists understand that each document is a drama, behind each letter or photograph is a person. Archivists safe-guard the immediate and permanent resources that will define who we are and explain what we did for our posterity. 

As stated above, one of our duties is to acquire, preserve and share materials of permanent research value. Case in point: the William Behan Papers donated earlier this year with ongoing deposits. Behan has spent more than 10 years performing extensive primary document research tracing property transactions in Beaufort District from Proprietary times to the Civil War. He calls the process and results “genealogies of property.” His papers will remain critical to understanding the socio-economic history of this area long after we’re all pushing up daisies.

Another case in point: Old Marines contact the Beaufort District Collection frequently to discover where they once lived – often giving us few clues to go on. Recently staff tracked down an address and provided directions to what was likely the area of the Bessinger Court domicile where the Marine resided in the early 1960s by using old telephone books, City directories, and mid-20th century Beaufort area maps in the BDC. He made the trip down - and found the site!

Now that we have entered a new century, the traditional model of libraries and archives 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!)

You can reach the “Virtual BDC” by going to http://www.beaufortcountylibrary.org/beaufort-district-collection. Here you’ll find links to our four digital collections hosted by the Lowcountry Digital Library – including two about the Great Sea Island Hurricane of 1893; the link to this “Connections” blog; our Local Obituary Index link; our “Lists of Local History Materials” published online in our bdcbclWordpress blog; and short videos about historical topics and places in Beaufort County Moments” While you’re on the page, be sure to “Follow the BDC on Facebook” too.  Letting people enjoy some of our holdings over the internet is a non-traditional way to connecting people to treasures in our archives.

With the plethora of digital libraries today, sometimes the fact that most digital libraries still rely on 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 gets lost. One of the major goals of Archives Month is to raise awareness of what archives have, do, and share. We share because we care about the materials and the communities we serve.

In addition to providing traditional reference services and creating and maintaining the “Virtual BDC,” the BDC keeps a challenging local history programs schedule. We had three programs planned for October: “Spirit of Adventure” with author Rachel Haynie held at St. Helena Branch Library on Sat., October 1st; the fourth annual “What the Heck Is It?” artifact identification session with Dr. Jon Leader and Dr. Eric Poplin (that was regretfully postponed by the arrival of Hurricane Matthew last week – new date TBD); and Lowcountry Voodoo A to Z with local author Carole Marsh-Longmeyer coming up on October 26th at Bluffton Branch Library.

We'll be sharing some of our special materials about the history of Northern Beaufort county at Lobeco Branch the first Saturday in November. Be sure to come out to see some seldom seen treasures there! 

Event Name:  “History of Northern Beaufort County”
Short Description of Event:  Manager of the Beaufort District Collection, Grace Cordial, uses special collection items to shed light on the people, places and events in the settlements north of the Whale Branch River.
Time and Date of Event: Saturday, November 5, 2016 at 1:00 pm  
Location of Event: BDC@ Lobeco Branch Library, 1862 Trask Parkway, Lobeco, SC 29931
Price of Event: Free; Ages 12 - Adults
Contact info: Grace Cordial, 843-255-6468, gracec@bcgov.net  

In addition, we collaborate with the cultural heritage community locally, state-wide, and on the national level when possible. For example, in September, the Beaufort History Museum and the Beaufort County Library agreed to become partners in a pilot project to bring even more local history programs to Northern Beaufort County. And when the Spanish Moss Trail opens its trail-side historical markers at the end of the month, some of the panels will include materials from the BDC. You can also see some of images on display in exhibits at the Beaufort History Museum, the Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage, and the Santa Elena History Center.

Want a personal tour of the closed stack area? We welcome small group tours with prior arrangement throughout the year. Ideal size is 4 to 10 people. Call 843-255-6468 or e-mail gracec@bcgov.net to discuss scheduling, topics, and needs. We’d love to host your group.

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