In reflecting on my time at the Pack Memorial Library, I would first like to start by simply going through the skills I have learned. One is something that most every historian should know, regardless of their position, and that is reviewing records. The first park of reviewing records is learning their raison d’etre, that is to say fining out their purpose and relevance within a collection. Some items are easy to understand. They could be a booklet with a mission statement on the first page, or an easily recognized item that has changed very little today like a receipt. Other times the item will not be so clear. One such item that had me guessing for some time turned out to be an exercise for employees of the Needle Exchange Program to use amongst themselves which would help in creating a better understanding for each other. To understand this item I simply had to read through it in its entirety, which was only 4-5 pages if I remember correctly. Another item which was tricky to find the relevance of was an advertisement booklet for Appalachian Hall. Advertising the resort sanitarium was quite obviously the purpose of the booklet, but my problem was trying to understand what Appalachian Hall actually was. Reading through the booklet informed me that it was a mental care center that was dressed up as a resort in the mountains, or as much in the mountains as Asheville is. Another thing which struck me about the booklet was that the illustrations of Appalachian Hall looked exactly like the reconstructed Kenilworth Inn. While this caused confusion at first, I later looked up the Kenilworth Inn in the manual of Asheville buildings and learned that in the 1930s it was bought by a psychiatrist that repurposed the building to create a mental care facility. Speaking of the Kenilworth Inn leads me to the second park of reviewing records, and that is dating the different items. While the Kenilworth Inn confused me in the beginning, what with it burning down, being reconstructed, repurposed, and renamed, it soon became useful to have it in a booklet or pamphlet as the building design shown and name would give me a time period that the booklet would have to be from. While it was most ideal when an item had a date of some sort it them, rather it be a timestamp from an email or a date of publishing, many did not. So I would then be made to play detective, using clues like the particular Kenilworth Inn shown or a particular event referenced to date the different items. Not ideal, but that is the purpose of the manual on the different historic buildings of Asheville and the archive’s Asheville timeline. Other clues which can be used are the types of vehicles shown in photographs, different types of dress in photographs, and the names of illustrators and artists who were prominent.
Another useful skill that I learned was digitally processing collections. Like reviewing records there are multiple aspects to digital processing, the first of which is scanning. Most any college level student in school today has had to use some kind of scanner, so I did not expect to have to learn anything overly complex. On one hand I was correct, as a scanner is a scanner and all one needs do is use it as any other. What I did have to learn however was that there are different practices when scanning different items. For documents I simply needed to make certain that every page of the same document was given the same name as the rest of the pages and that the page number corresponded with the actual number of the page. Photos, postcards, and document pages with a verity of pictures needed to be scanned in a slightly different way. For these I needed to make certain that I also scanned a small amount of the white space around each item, as researchers need to be certain that they are looking at the full picture, literally, and that there has been nothing of the photo left out. I had forgotten this for one of the John Hayes photo collections, and scanned them showing no white space. Thankfully for me it was a forgivable mistake as the collection was made up of photos from the past 30 years. After scanning an item, it is then time to convert it to a form that is both easier to use, and smaller in data size. This was a fairly simply matter. Documents had all their scanned pages highlighted and converted into a single pdf, which then had its text recognized, and was then optimized so that the file was as small as possible and would not take up too much room. At times there were complications with this. In the Michael Harney collection and the Pamphlet collection there were booklets which had text that read from top to bottom, rather than side to side. The text recognizer would try to “straighten” the pages and instead flip them according to the running of the text. The solution had a rather simple fix where I simply text recognized only the pages that had normally running text. Afterwards, each item would have everything that had been scanned for it copied to the scans folder of the NC Room Archives, and the optimized final product would be copied to the images folder where it could be further accessed from DB Textworks to be accessed online. A description of each document would be in the “scope and content” of each folder.
While it is a skill I already had to a point, I would also like to reflect on how I learned to handle archival materials. I expected to need to treat every item as though it were made of cured leather from the 16th century. Instead the items from the first collection were treated as anything else. All photos, regardless of age, needed to be handled with gloves to keep our natural oils from harming them, and this extended to postcards as they were sometimes made of similar material to photographs. And while I was told to handle all the pamphlet items with gloves as they were all in the century old range, Zoe, Ione, and Katherine all handled these items with their bare hands when I had questions. This leads me to believe that while handling archival items with care is important, it is not as life or death as I had originally expected.
In reflecting on my time at the North Carolina Room archives, I have learned that archival work is pleasantly solitary, until one leaves that archival room and is accosted by baby boomers who want to shake their hand and exchange names. I quite like being able to simply sit down, pop in a podcast of some sort, and begin working, but at the same time the day can go by extraordinarily slowly if one is not preforming visitor services. So working in an archive has its pros and cons in comparison to working at a historic site. Speaking of which, it is time that I spoke on the third historic site that I went to for this class. Because it is closer to me than any Asheville historic site, I decided to go check out the Rural Heritage Museum, which I found to be quite pleasant. It focusses on a history that many have overlooked in Western North Carolina, which is that of the majority of people living in to non-urbanized areas of WNC. Unfortunately it is understandable as one can more easily find documents on one of Asheville’s former luxury hotels than on a prominent family in the actual mountains of WNC. Many of these people were illiterate, and for those who could write the mold and dampness of the Appalachian Mountains is an every creeping destroyer of documentation. So much of the museum in dedicated to the history of items which people in rural areas used, such as the flax comb, which is used when combing out the pieces of straw from flax in the process of turning flax into thread. Another lovely piece that they had was a reed organ, which is essentially a smaller and more portable organ that many churches in rural WNC would have used. I was lucky enough to catch the museum director Les Reker while he was there and have a word with him. He gave some historic context on the building the museum was housed in and told me it was originally the library of Mars Hill University and in around century old. Knowing that the building a museum is in is also a piece of history certainly makes the experience at one a bit more fun for the visitor. It also goes to show that the preservation of history can be used to take care of history.