31
Aug
09

Reflections: SAA Austin (Thursday/Friday — North Carolina sessions)

On Thursday I attended Session 109, “Not Another Survey!” about statewide collections inventories and needs assessments. I have often wondered who creates the sometimes long and always investigative surveys of collections and preservation needs. Of course I found the presentation by Hilary Perez, the Project Archivist at NC ECHO the most interesting of all! What is fascinating about NC ECHO’s survey was that it entailed actual site visits, which were done a week at a time and included a 17-page survey. They focused on non-living, permanent, non-local government collections in the state of North Carolina. Here are some of the facts following their 5-year project:

  • Over 850 institutions were visited
  • 761 institutions responded to the survey
  • 16% have no web presence
  • 72% have no disaster response plan (including my department)
  • 59% describe their storage facilities as inadequate
  • 25% are entirely volunteer-run

The resulting institutional directory created by NC ECHO serves as a clearinghouse of information about these statewide cultural heritage institutions. For some, it is their only web presence. Another conclusion made during the presentation: digitization is the fastest, best way to preserve the cultural heritage of the state.

(I also attended Session 202 and Session 210 on Thursday.)

On Friday I attended Session 408 entitled “Advocacy, Education, and Money: How State Historical Records Advisory Boards Can Help.” Sarah Koonts, Head of the Collections Management Branch of the North Carolina State Archives, spoke about our state’s SHRAB and some of its advocacy initiatives. She pointed out in her presentation that while NC ECHO is IMLS-funded, the NC SHRAB does not have any full-time staff.

As part of the SHRAB’s funding from a SNAP (?) grant, the Traveling Archivist Program was developed. By offering best practices, demonstrations, and consultation about preservation, the Traveling Archivist will provide valuable guidance to small cultural heritage institutions in North Carolina. I will be applying for the first round of the program, which is due on September 30, on behalf of my library. It is limited to 40 institutions between the two rounds of the program.

Since this is focused primarily on physical preservation of primary resources, what about digital preservation? NC ECHO’s role appears to have been defined early on as the place for digitization initiatives, but it seems that it has shifted in recent years to help identify institutions and create an information clearinghouse.

Perhaps in relation, UNC-Chapel Hill recently announced this position as part of a new North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, to be housed as part of the North Carolina Collection. The NC Digital Heritage Center will “provide digitization and hosting services for cultural heritage materials held by libraries, archives, historical societies, and other institutions in the state of North Carolina.” That’s right, they are going to be a digitization center for the state!

While at SAA, I spoke briefly with NC archivists and speakers about the possible relationship between the Traveling Archivist Program (physical preservation) and the NC Digital Heritage Center (digital preservation). Some archivists had not heard of either program; others had not seemed to consider the fact that these programs were being developed simultaneously. They are both incredibly valuable programs and demonstrate a renewed focus on archival advocacy and education for community-based repositories.

One question I forgot to ask: do either of these projects have to to with the IMLS statewide planning grant? One was awarded in 2009 to North Carolina entitled “North Carolina Connecting to Collections” as a collaboration between the NC Department of Cultural Resources (which encompasses NC ECHO and the SHRAB), the North Carolina Museums Council, the North Carolina Preservation Consortium, and the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies to “identify, coordinate, and assess collections preservation and disaster preparedness activities in the state’s cultural heritage community.” Any ideas?

(I also attended Session 411 on Friday.)

In the meantime, I will be following closely the development of these programs since they are near and dear to my librarchivist heart.

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