Final Post

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.


My Ending at Pack

I just finished my last hours at Pack. First I should explain that I finished off my DBTextwork pages around the beginning of this week, and had to scan some extra booklets that I skipped as they had DBTextwork pages and I thought they were had already been scanned. So overall there is very little to report about that. Afterward I had the pleasure of scanning a particularly smelly scrapbook on Beaver Lake (which I consider more of a pond than a lake) which had formally been covered in mold. Ione had de-molded it by washing with some solution, but it was still unsalvageable, so I had the job of digitizing it before it was thrown away. It was a fairly simple and quick project, the only real difficulty coming when a newspaper article was too large for my scanner, and I had to either go to the 10000 size scanner, or the massive scanner in a locked room that seems to eat whatever you scan. After finishing with that little project, I began working on postcards! Lots of them. Like seriously, lots. Dealing with them was quite simple, just scan each side, naming each scan the ID number for each postcard and giving the back scans the label _back. The only problem was finding the best way to scan each one, as some look much better when scanned as a document, rather than scanned as a photo.

Two For One

This post will be a double whammy, as I once again forgot to do a post last week. My participation grade must look great!

About Wolfe

I am obviously no expert on the running of a historic site, yet I work at one, so I feel I can make a few notes without being completely out of line. First, as someone who knew very little about Thomas Wolfe, I can say that the tour did a good job at explaining why Wolfe was important to Asheville specifically. The guide also gave a good explanation as to why the site is still a memorial and furthermore, why the thing still exists when Wolfe was only a writer whose influence spread only as far as other literature and a few plays. Giving the tour from the perspective of Thomas Wolfe was certainly an interesting approach, however; I believe it may have detracted from an encompassing view of his family, especially his mother. While such a perspective can entertain visitors, I believe it is more important to give as unbiased an understanding of the past as possible. The only other real problem with the content of the tour itself was that for a site with such a wide range of original artifacts, there was very little focus placed upon them. I have always found that most visitors are intrigued and delighted by the stranger looking artifacts when they learn of their uses, especially when the use is easily relatable to the visitor’s everyday lives.


At Pack I have been finishing my work with the tourist brochures and booklets up. Most of them seem to have been published by the Southern Railway company rather than the Asheville Chamber of commerce, which is a little surprising as one would expect most all tourist materials related to Asheville to be from Asheville itself, rather than an overreaching company that looked upon Asheville as only one of many attractions on its railway. Reading through the material I also find it amusing that the tactics to get tourists to come to Asheville has not changed after a century, and the natural resources of the city and area are still a primary selling point. I have now begun to consolidate the collection and create a folder page for each one in the DBTextworks, which you can now see by looking up collection ID number MS268.  I have one final week at Pack, in which I will finish the last few pages of this collection and compete one other small unknown project.

More Brochures, and a Church Reunion

When I came in to the North Carolina Room’s staff area this past Monday, I was greeted by a folder from the Stumptown 4th Reunion Collection with a sticky note saying it was for me. Zoe explained that the folder was filled with photos which had not yet been scanned and uploaded, even though the collection was on the older side. Apparently, there have been requests for the photographs in the folder to be digitized, so digitizing this collection became a priority over the brochures I was scanning and the John Hayes Collection (which still had no new additions). The reunion seems to include primarily people of African American decent from the Welfare Baptist Church in Stumptown. This church seems to have been closed, though of what its legal status was at the time of this reunion, I am uncertain. The only problem that I had with this collection was more of a fun challenge. That was reading the cursive on the back of each photo, which was faced out of my school by the time I entered the grade it would be taught. Thankfully the writer was not writing in a manner that indicates madness or a deep desire to reinvent the English language like other cursive scripts I have had the displeasure of trying to decipher, so I had an easy time reading it. The folder was finished rather quickly, and then I returned to my tourist brochures and manuals. I am nearing completion of that collection as well.

Last Week at Pack!

First, allow me to apologize for the lateness of this blog post.

Now, one to what I have been up to. I have recently caught up with what we have of the John Hayes collection, though more is hopefully coming in Hayes is pleased with my digitization of the collection so far. I have also been working on a new collection. I cannot remember the official title, but the material is almost all tourism booklets, pamphlets, and brochures on Asheville and the surrounding area from between the 1890s to the 1930s. I am excited to be working with some older material, and also a bit nervous, as it is far more sensitive that anything I have worked with so far. Rusted paperclips seem a much greater threat than ever before, as I am getting an in person look at the discoloration and distortion they can cause in a centuries’ time. Many of these clips are so well ingrained in the paper, the sheets of paper need to be taken off of them one at a time. I should also mention I am only scanning these items, and giving each one its own folder title, to be placed into DB Textworks at a later date. One other challenge I have found is dating many of the items, as most were meant to be disposable and dating them was possibly considered a waste of ink. Thankfully many of them advertise popular buildings and resorts that are easy enough to date, such as the Kenilworth Inn. The existence of certain automobiles is also a way to help assign a general age for the pieces. I will end this post by simply remarking that I find it odd, but also rather funny, that Asheville’s place as a tourist city has changed little today.

Changes in the Archives

In regards to the blog post which argued that to remain updated in this contemporary world, archives should do more to interact with the community around them and the wider world, I would agree to a point. Many archives today, such as the North Carolina Room in Pack, already do reach out to the different groups within their own communities, as it is necessary if they want to acquire new documents, photos and other general archival materials. The North Carolina Room also has some small exhibits, a few of which bleed out unto the rest of the Pack Library, which highlight local history. These are fun little uses of archives materials. While I am uncertain as to whether or not the North Carolina Room has something like this, I also agree with the concept of entertainment oriented websites run by different archives that use archived materials to entertain, such as the website dedicated to mustaches. These uses of archival material show people, who may only have vague ideas of what an archive is, that they are places in which records are not only kept safe and housed, but also places which can celebrate these records, and the community they belong to. But I believe it is also important that people are made to understand how precious these records are, and how they must be cared for and preserved, before they are used. While connecting with the outside world is important for archives, it should always have an end goal of preservation.

Hillcrest Photos

In going through the photos of the John Hayes collection, I am reminded of the video we watched which discussed the archived photos of formerly prosperous African-American communities that have been destroyed by development. The Hillcrest housing and apartments is a predominantly African-American area, and the photos show some of the parades, sports activities, and community improvement programs that took place in the area because of the Hillcrest Enrichment Program. These photos are a look at that resent past of the Hillcrest area, and proof that the area is, and has been since the 1980s, a thriving community. Asheville itself has a rather unfortunate history of destroying African-American communities with its ravenous desire to improve itself, and while these photos may never be used, they could be used in protecting the Hillcrest community.

Aside from organizing the photos and placing them in the plastic sleeves that reside inside a large plastic protective casing, I have also been going through the wonderfully relaxing process of scanning. While it is a fairly simple process, it is time consuming. It is also a great time to see the photos as individual pieces, rather than groupings of the same event. Yet one photo gave me pause. That photo was of the 2001 Hillcrest Majorettes and Drum Corps, and it was a copy of an original photo. This copy is spread over eight pages, and we unfortunately do not have the original, so I got to puzzle it together, get a picture, and put the pages into four different page protectors.


New Collection

I have finally finished with the Michael Harney collection, and am now onto a new collection which has already been worked upon. This is the John Hayes collection, and it has already been partly compiled by a former volunteer at the North Carolina Room Archives. This is something that can unfortunately happen at an archive, that accepts volunteer work. The volunteer’s time simply does not last as long as is needed for all their projects, and an incomplete mess is left behind. So, I started by simply going through everything and seeing what had been scanned, and what had not been, as well as what the folders in DBTextworks are meant to be centered around. I quickly learned that the majority of the collection had not been scanned, only one book of photos had been. Then, by comparing the rest of the scanned items in the collection with the physical collection, I learned that much of what had been scanned we did not have a physical copy of. After some confusion, Zoe learned that most of what had been scanned had been on loan to Pack, and was never fully donated, so the volunteer had to simply can these items as quickly as possible before they were forfeit. So, after going through everything, I have now begun the process of sorting the written documents into categories.

Slavery in the Minds of Southerners

The question of interpreting sensitive material is hardly one that pertains to the American race based slavery and southern historic memory alone, but rather to all histories in which multiple perspectives on the truth are held. But I luckily only have experience in dealing with white southerners that would prefer to remember slavery as simply another form labor, little different than underpaid factory labor at the beginning of the industrial revolution. In my experience at Vance these white southerners commonly clam up when the subject of slavery comes up during a tour, and where they will ask a variety of questions about the cooking implements or gender norms at the time, they rarely venture questions about the enslaved people that were on the farm. I believe that for many southerners it is because of an unwillingness to learn about the reality of slavery in the U.S. South, as they would prefer to not only live in ignorance, but they would also like to create their own delusional history where slavery was something people agreed to become a part of and never questioned. But it is the purpose of interpreters at historic sites and public historians in general to help break down these dilutions with the power of facts. To help educate people on the reality of the past, instead of some Gone With the Wind fantasy in which slavery is a natural part of capitalist system. Before I finish rambling, I want to simply make not that this is not so for all southerners, in fact the majority want to know what slavery was like in the Appalachia.

Pack Ramblings

This past week has been pleasantly productive, where last week was unfortunately the opposite, as my absence of a blog post no doubt attested. Unlike previous weeks I have not been learning anything new, but rather I have been continuing with the information that I learned in previous weeks, and using it to continue to enter the data of the Michael Harney collection. So far I have completed my first box of this collection, its number being MS370.001, with each folder being given a letter of the alphabet. It was quite auspicious that once the folders that contain magazines were added, there were exactly twenty-six folders, allowing for there to be folders MS370.001A to MS370.001Z. After organizing the piles of miscellaneous articles and documents into folders and giving each folder its own page on DBTextworks, I chose some choice documents from each to scan and place upon the folder’s corresponding DBTextworks page. Not only will these documents be immortalized by digitization, but they will also serve as mouth-wetters for anyone interested in what the folder has to offer. This is useful, as a mere two sentence description of a folder can say too little of what is in the folder, where copies of just a few of the documents inside can speak volumes on exactly how useful this collection may be to one’s research. I have also found that I have been able to get into a flow with my work, enough so that I can listen to radio plays as I work, were before I would lose track of my current task after even a small distraction.