Charlotte Trip 1

The Traveling Archivist turned the Granger toward Charlotte on September 20.  First stop was the prestigious Mint Museum on Randolph Road.   There I spent the day with the museum’s librarian, Joyce Weaver.

Joyce is hoping to win a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to hire a consulting archivist to implement the development of an institutional archive for the museum.  My site visit and report would help in this effort by providing an assessment of museum’s historical records and outlining a plan for their collection, preservation, and access.  In the morning, I surveyed records in various museum offices and storage areas where material was being stored temporarily.  After lunch we discussed what I had seen and I made suggestions regarding next steps to pull the grant proposal together.  My conclusion was that the Mint certainly held records that would provide the basis for an archive, a collection that would benefit both the Mint staff and outside researchers.  So, I hope Joyce and her colleagues win the NHPRC grant and can move forward.

I also got to see the staff areas of the museum that are normally closed to the public.  The Mint building has been added to and altered over many years, but it began life as a neo-classical structure on Trade Street in downtown Charlotte where it housed the southern branch of the Federal Mint.  In later years the building was used as an assay office, but was closed by the government in the 1930s.  Threatened with demolition, the citizens of Charlotte raised funds to relocate the structure to its current location for use as a museum.  The re-location was aided by labor supplied through the WPA, and was completed in 1936.  In the staff areas of the lower level under the original building, there is a series of masonry vaults, a graceful remnant of 19th century construction techniques.

Below is a cabinet in the office of the Assistant Registrar showing historical records collected and preserved by Martha Mayberry, the museum’s registrar.  They will be incorporated into the Mint Archive.

Outside, between the parking lot and the main entrance to the museum, is a temporary installation, “Passages: Waterway,” by the Japanese artist, Tetsunori Kawana.  Constructed of bamboo, it is an amazing piece that you walk through.  This picture does not do the work justice.  Go see it while it’s still there.


The TA’s Wheels

Hal’s Truck: The Granger

Since the Traveling Archivist conducts site visits all over North Carolina he needs a set of wheels.  His vehicle of choice is his green 2002 Ford Ranger, or The Granger.  The Granger has over 212,000 miles on the odometer, but it keeps on truckin’ thanks to oil changes every three thousand miles and regular maintenance at Subarus-R-Us in Swannanoa.  You might wonder why I take a Ford to a garage specializing in Subarus?  Well, the mechanics there can work on most vehicles, the Granger ain’t too complicated, and the Ford dealer moved to a new location on the west side of town and I live on the east side.

The Granger was bought because Archivists drive trucks.  When I was a (relatively) young guy working for the Travelers Insurance Company in Hartford in the 1980s, my friend Paul Lasewicz was the Archivist at Aetna Life & Casualty.  I drove a Nissan Hardbody, he drove a Toyota Longbed.  Our mutual friend and Paul’s predecessor at Aetna, Leith Johnson, drove a Mazda pickup.  We all had trucks because they were cheap rides, because we owned homes and needed trucks for dump and mulch runs, and because we used our trucks to move records.  This last activity was probably not authorized, but if you put in a requisition and waited for someone to move cartons from an office, you probably were in for a delay of a week.  Moreover, I felt responsible for the records which had historical if not monetary value.  In my last full time job at Appalachian State before I retired, I regularly used my truck to move records to the library from all over campus.  Again, probably not authorized, but much more convenient.  Another issue was that I never thought about asking anyone to help me because this was work I preferred to do myself and was physically able to perform.  Looking back then, I guess I would list my qualifications to do archival work as including: Ph.D. in history, truck ownership, ability to lift 50 lb record center cartons–repeatedly.

PS  One of the reasons I get along with the NC State Archivist, Dick Lankford, is that he drives an old black Nissan pickup.


The Traveling Archivist Program

The Traveling Archivist program is an initiative of the North Carolina State Archives.  Its purpose is to provide professional advice and guidance to the state’s smaller repositories of Special Collections.  Such repositories include: historical and genealogical societies, local history rooms in public libraries, museums, and the institutional archives of  various small organizations (colleges, hospitals, non-profit associations, etc.).  Their special collections contain a wide variety of holdings:  personal papers and manuscripts, archival records, photographs, rare books, scrapbooks and collections of ephemera, and materials in audio-visual formats.

To deliver advice and guidance on special collections, the field service model has been chosen.  Instead of inviting staff members from these repositories to travel to Raleigh or a university campus for a workshop or other form of training,  a well-trained, experienced archivist travels to a repository and works with staff members and volunteers on their turf.  This allows the Traveling Archivist to inspect and become familiar with a repository’s special collections, and to make practical suggestions to improve the overall PRESERVATION of materials and the means of ACCESS through written finding aids to the historical information they contain.  For example, the the Traveling Archivist might suggest ways to improve a repository’s storage areas by instituting an environmental monitoring program that accurately and regularly records temperature and humidity levels.  Or, the Traveling Archivist might suggest collection surveys as a starting point to develop an archival processing (or cataloging) initiative.

Planning for the Traveling Archivist program began in September, 2009.  Site visits to selected repositories began in January, 2010 and concluded in November, 2009.  Forty-two site visits were conducted (TAP I).  Each was followed up with a written report highlighting simple and practical recommendations to improve preservation and access.  In March, 2011, the program was authorized for a second round of site visits (TAP II).  Another 40 visits are anticipated, 25 to new sites, and 15 revisits to TAP I sites requesting help to implement recommendations from their site visit report.  Tap II visits have begun, and this blog will report on progress in future posts.


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