The term "archives" refers to both a historical record and the facility that holds historical records. A historical record today can be on any medium -- paper, tape, microform, photograph, electronic or digital -- to serve as proof that an event occurred, explain how something happened, or fulfill a financial or sentimental need. In most cases, these records have significance beyond the immediate reason for their creation and use.
Archives come in all sizes and varieties. Well-run archives have a mission, trained staff, a rationale behind what gets collected and preserved, policies for sharing the materials on a regular and recurrent basis, and plans for long-term stewardship of the records it holds.
The Beaufort District Collection is the special local history collection and archives unit of the Beaufort County Library. It is our responsibility to acquire, preserve, maintain and make accessible a research collection of permanent value about local history including Gullah traditions, cultural and natural history, archaeology and genealogy of this area. Thus we concentrate on gathering and sharing information -- in both traditional and modern ways -- about the places, and themes of the area wedged between the Combahee and Savannah rivers, from the Atlantic to approximately 50 miles inland.
The BDC Research Room is both a traditional reference room and a closed-stack archive. Customers can browse the materials in the public part of the area, but the bulk of the collection is accessible only through the staff. Staff is on hand to protect materials and guide researchers, but researchers perform their own work. However, that traditional model is transforming to include 21st century modes of service.
Libraries and archives know how to deal with change: we've been doing it since 2600 B.C. Each and every workday, we assist researchers working in the Research Room and some whom we will never see in person. Each and every day, we share Beaufort District's long and storied history through the "Virtual BDC." Find it posted under the "Local History" tab on the library's homepage at www.beaufortcountylibrary.org. Letting people enjoy some of our holdings over the internet is a nontraditional way to connect people to treasures in our archives.
Digital libraries exist, for the most part, because of the physical treasures secured in brick-and-mortar libraries, archives and museums watched over by flesh and blood trained librarians, archivists and curators who protect and share treasures with others today, and who have committed to preserve and share the treasures with future generations, too.
We share because we care about the materials, the community we serve and love to do show and tell. The BDC keeps a challenging local history programs schedule. Recent BDC@The Branches programs have highlighted materials from our collections about the Sea Island Hurricane of 1893, the phosphate mining industry, the Byrne Miller Papers and practical ways to keep digital items from getting lost in the cloud.
In addition, we collaborate with the cultural heritage community locally, statewide and on the national level when possible. A prime example of such collaboration arrives on Oct. 1 when we open "Creating the Carolinas," a traveling exhibit from the South Carolina Historical Society as the keystone for Archives Month. Squabbling about South Carolina's boundaries began 400 years ago when kings, political deals, Indian treaties and misguided surveying helped draw the lines. Come find out just how troublesome establishing our state boundaries was. Discover the role that the Treaty of Beaufort of 1787 played in the disputes. This free exhibit showcasing treasures from the South Carolina Historical Society will be on display through Jan. 30 in the second floor lobby at 311 Scott St. The exhibit will be open when the BDC Research Room is open, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays, except as otherwise posted. The schedule for the supplemental lecture series will be announced in this column next week.
As I wrote earlier, most of the treasures of the collection are accessible only through the staff. Once a year we offer a tour of the locked, climate controlled storage area to individual members of the public. The 2014 tour is set for Oct. 11. This year we highlight materials about "Archives and the Natural Environment" in keeping with this 2014 theme for S.C. Archives Month. Because of the size of the storage area, we must limit the number of participants to 15 people 12 and older. The tour is free but you must register by noon Oct. 10. Call 843-255-6468 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place. No walk-ins please.
Grace Cordial is the Beaufort District Collection coordinator.