NCLA Part 1: Politician papers and the new North Carolina Gazetteer

I am back in Winston-Salem, pleasantly surprised by my first experience with a state library conference: NCLA. I was warned that registrations were lower than ever, and while attendance was indeed low, I found that some sessions were more seminars than panels (which is always a better learning environment for me).

I attended the Government Resources Section’s session on politician papers in libraries, with Betty Carter from UNCG and Tim West of UNC Chapel Hill.

UNCG was given permission to acquire the papers of Senator Kay Hagan, and also has the papers of Congressman Howard Coble. While their collection’s strengths lie primarily with performing arts and early 20th century authors, UNCG’s University Archives and Manuscripts department also has political papers. Betty Carter mentioned two important things to consider when acquiring political papers: size and research potential. She also mentioned the usefulness of SAA’s publication entitled Managing Congressional Collections.

 Tim West from the Southern Historical Collection represents a large special collections repository. He mentioned the importance of obtaining special funding for a processing archivist, which the SHC has done successfully by asking for funding from donors. Research value (through archival appraisal) for historians, journalists, community activists, undergraduates, relatives, and constituents is of utmost importance to the SHC. Mr. West mentioned the importance of collecting from individuals and groups of “exceptional impact” such as officeholders who have been influential outside of political activity, people involved in politics who did not hold public office, political journalists, and more.

During the ensuing discussion, the panelists agreed that there is a need for a statewide documentation strategy for political papers. I am concerned with the role of academic special collections departments in making available political papers to the public. Academic libraries focus on students and faculty. What role do public libraries play in this? We recently de-accessioned and donated to the State Archives the papers of a local state representative because we felt they would be researched more frequently there. I had not thought that academic libraries with ties to political figures might also collect these types of work — what about the State Archives as a repository for government documents? Perhaps election materials and personal papers do not fall within their collection development policy? Also, what about elecronic records? Neither have, so far, begun collecting born-digital resources.

Another issue that became highlighted during the panel: the majority of those participating were government documents librarians, most of whom had never dealt with manuscripts. It was interesting to watch librarians and archivists discuss archival concepts — and it made me realize how much further we have to go to understand each other and our methods in dealing with “records.”

Later that afternoon, I helped introduce Michael Hill, supervisor of the Research Division of the NC Office of Archives & History and also coordinator of the North Carolina State Highway Historical Marker Program. His presentation on editing William Powell’s North Carolina Gazetteer was engaging and amusing, exploring some of the origins of unique place names in the state (i.e. Asey Hole, Pig Basket Creek, Whynot). I am really looking forward to the book, which should come out sometime next year and will undoubtedly become another reference must-have.


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