Posted by: Ashley | July 5, 2012

The Traveling Archivist Program: Fostering Success for North Carolina’s Special Collections

[This blog post comes from Andrea Gabriel of our Resource Management Branch.]

Since 2009 when it was created as a pilot project through federal funding, the Traveling Archivist Program (TAP) has provided professional preservation advice and guidance to the state’s smaller repositories whose holdings document the history and culture of North Carolina. Historical and genealogical societies, local history rooms in public libraries, museums, and the institutional archives of various organizations have benefited from workshops and training delivered by Dr. Hal Keiner, North Carolina’s traveling archivist.

Hal, formerly the university archivist at Appalachian State University, has seen it all—decaying personal papers, water damaged scrapbooks, rare books and photographs in need of preservation or simply re-housing, neglected institutional records. Yet it is these fragile collections which document the state’s growth and development and tell the story of North Carolina and her people.

TAP has assisted 60 institutions in 42 counties and Hal has documented each site visit with a report and recommendations for collection preservation and access. And sometimes all it takes is this basic but crucial step to add momentum to the cause. Below are excerpts of Hal’s visit and recommendations to the Mint Museum in Charlotte resulting in a successful grant to that museum:

“The Traveling Archivist turned the [Ford] 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 (NHPRC) 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.

“The Mint’s art collections are diverse, and contain several concentrations of national significance. The American Art Collection contains over 900 works including 18th century portraits, nineteenth century landscapes, works by American impressionists, and an important group of paintings by members of the so-called Ashcan School. The Art of the Ancient Americas collection contains 2,500 objects spanning 4,500 years from South America, Central America, Mexico and the United States. The Contemporary Art collection features the work of Charlotte artist Romare Bearden, and other post World War II works on paper, photography, paintings and sculpture. The Decorative Arts Collection is built around the Mint’s unrivaled holdings of ceramics, a concentration that began with the acquisition of over 2,000 pieces from the collection of Miss Mellanay Delhom and since augmented by many other purchases and gifts. Another collection of renown is the Fashion Collection which includes clothing from the 18th century to the work of present-day fashion designers. Finally, the Mint embarked in the last decade upon strengthening their collection of craft and design by collecting contemporary decorative arts in the areas of glass, fiber art, metal, studio jewelry, design, studio furniture, wood art, and clay. These collections form the basis for the museum’s permanent and changing exhibits, supplemented by traveling exhibits from other museums.

“The Mint Museum has two libraries in the Randolph Road building which serve the public and museum staff. The first, the J. A. Jones Reference Library, is the main reference library and contains a wide variety of books and magazines related to the museum’s collections. Also found here are reference files (or vertical files) containing material on artists represented in the Mint collections, files on North Carolina artists deposited by the N.C. Arts Council, and files on other American artists. The second, smaller library, the Delhom-Gambrell Reference Library, contains reference books related to the decorative arts, with a concentration on ceramics…

“The Special Collections at the museum fall into three categories. First, there are 200-300 rare books located in both the J. A. Jones and the Delhom-Gambrell libraries. The most valuable concentration are the oversized volumes located in latter. There are also several manuscript collections in the libraries and other storage rooms, including the George Hanna Papers (mainly manuscript material created by Hanna, one of the last employees of the U.S Mint when it served as an assay office in the early 20th-century); the Robicsek Collection (research materials related to pre-Columbian art); the Michael Kampen O’Riley Collection (field notes, drawings, and photographs related to the excavation of a Mayan archeological site, El Tajin); the Daisy Wade Bridges Collection (research files, mostly related to the ceramics collection; and the Stuart Schwartz Collection (curatorial research files related to American ceramics)…

“By far, the greatest holdings of Special Collections are the Mint’s institutional archives, that is, the records created since 1936 that document the history of the museum: its governance and administration; registration records; curatorial/exhibition records and research files, and records of its affiliate organizations.”

The Traveling Archivist site visit report and subsequent recommendations provided the necessary foundation for the Mint to document the need to formally establish its institutional archives. With funds from the NHPRC the Mint will identify and establish a space for archival processing, consolidate approximately 200 cubic feet of records into one physical location, process and provide basic online descriptions for those records, and establish a records retention and collection development policy. The addition of these archive records will strengthen the library’s holdings to better serve their users. Additionally, the Mint’s Heritage Gallery showcases works of art, archival documents, and photographs documenting the museum’s growth and evolution.

A note to Hal from librarian Joyce Weaver says it best:

Hello Hal,

I wanted to let you know that yes, we got our NHPRC Archives startup grant. Everyone is totally thrilled and excited about what we have ahead of us.

I did want to let you know that our program officer at the NHPRC told me that one of the reasons we got the grant was the amount of planning we were able to show ahead of time. This includes your site visit, report, and recommendations. Thank you again for your instrumental assistance with our successful award of this grant. Your help truly was invaluable… Most of all, I just wanted to say thank you. The award of this grant is a milestone for the Mint and I don’t think we could have done it without you and the Traveling Archivist Program.

Best wishes,
Joyce.

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