Learn how to preserve your family history, heirlooms at local libraries

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 26, 2014 

A map of Beaufort County.

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  • YOUR LIBRARY


    For more information on the Beaufort County Public Library system, go to www.beaufortcountylibrary.org.

As the library system's special local history collection and archives, the Beaufort District Collection preserves materials each and every day. Our highest priority is to be good stewards of the cultural heritage materials entrusted to us for the community. Therefore we must be up-to-date on preservation thought, practices and techniques.

Institutional, personal, family and community cultural heritage collections are equally at risk from the environment and poor handling. A key conclusion of the Heritage Health Index report was that people at all levels of government and the private sector must take responsibility for the survival of these cultural heritage collections. The American Library Association, the Library of Congress, Society of American Archivists, Institute for Museum and Library Services and others responded with "preservation week" as an essential step to strengthening everyone's awareness of the importance and scope of preservation needs. The district collection has planned three free programs to empower you with confidence that you are doing right by your family treasures as our contribution to Preservation Week 2014.

Do you have precious books, letters, diaries, photographs, prints and drawings or objects like maps, paintings, quilts, baptismal gowns, ceramic vases, sets of china, silverware or pieces of furniture that you hope others will love in 50 years as much as you do now? Multiply the number of items in your possession by the number of people in your neighborhood, this county, this state, etc. The obvious conclusion is that an enormous number of culturally significant items held by individuals, families and communities are in need of basic preservation.

Empowering others is at the core of the public library's mission. Part of being a steward of good cultural heritage materials is sharing our knowledge about preservation practices with the community in order to empower you to better protect your own treasures. Preservation can get complicated because different materials require different conditions and treatments. Nevertheless, some general principles can mitigate a host of potential problems. For example, the unholy trinity of degradation, that is, heat, light and humidity, must be closely monitored and managed to minimize natural decay of materials. A simple practice of keeping lights at the lowest level sufficient for the job at hand can actually slow down the rate of decay. Humidity, always a concern in coastal South Carolina, must be controlled to prevent mold growth, corrosion, drying and cracking, warping, buckling and/or flaking of precious material. Proper storage matters -- a lot.

District collection staff has years of practical experience preserving paper-based materials, such as books, magazine articles, photographs, postcards and illustrated prints. A growing portion of our holdings arrives in the form of film and digital materials formats, that is, DVD, cassette audiotape, VHS tape, CD, microfilm and film negatives. Although the scope of the district collection is the people, places, events and themes relating to this area, we welcome the opportunity to share our knowledge and experience with preservation of specific formats with you as our contribution to Preservation Week 2014.

"Preserving Your Family Treasures with Grace" is an introduction to basic preservation practices and techniques for paper-based materials such as letters, family Bibles, certificates and diplomas, memorabilia, and photographic prints. The program will be held twice during Preservation Week 2014 for the convenience of county residents. From 3 to 4 p.m. April 30, I will be at the Hilton Head Island library. A reprise of this program will be from 2 to 3 p.m. May 3 at the Beaufort library. Both programs are free and open to the general public.

In the past decade, there has been an explosion of created digital materials. I'll wager that you have at least one moving image or sound recording of human activity or creativity in the form of bits and bytes. In effect, each person who has taken a photo with their cellphone or uploaded to YouTube has assumed responsibility for his or her own digital archive. A brand new BDC@ The Branches preservation program, "Digital Preservation with Grace," addresses basic preservation practices for born digital formats. I will offer tips and suggestions to empower you to preserve your family history on digital media in this free program from 2 to 4 p.m. May 1 at the St. Helena Island library.

Join us to learn what we can do, individually and together, to preserve our personal and shared collections. Together, we can save our personal history for those who will come after us.

Grace Cordial is the Beaufort District Collection manager.

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