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>  News Releases >   2001 >   August

Library archivists help preserve NH documents

Posted 08/10/01

Nearly three centuries of history lies vulnerable to insects and humidity in the basements of Granite State libraries, courthouses and town halls. This fall, Dartmouth archivists will work with the State Historical Records Advisory Board and local preservation specialists to present a series of workshops on preserving the maps, municipal records and photographs that make up a portion of the state's documentary heritage.

Two-day document-preservation workshops for municipal clerks, public librarians, historical society volunteers, court clerks, county government officials and other record keepers will be held at 10 locations throughout the state. The curriculum, designed by Dartmouth staff, will demonstrate how local preservationists can make the most of limited resources to preserve fragile documents.

"For example, knowing how fluctuating temperatures expand and contract paper fibers helps explain why paper turns brittle. Understanding that light -- UV light in particular -- accelerates the deterioration of paper can help us understand how to protect documents," said Anne Ostendarp, Dartmouth College Archivist.

The age and nature of New England communities pose special problems for archivists and local record keepers, according to Ostendarp. "New England was settled early in the country's history, so the records date back further than in other areas of the country," she said. "Also, in other parts of the country, like the Midwest, there are strong state historical societies that are government-funded. New England historical societies tend to be smaller, local organizations that are privately funded, so we have a patchwork of resources and knowledge about preservation."

Dartmouth archivist Daniel Daily, who conceived the idea for the workshop series two years ago, is working with Ostendarp and a number of agencies around the state to discover what information record keepers feel will best meet their needs. As archivist of the Hanover town records, stored in Dartmouth's archives, Daily is familiar with the special challenges local records pose. He secured funding for the project through a $126,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

Although the curriculum is still being defined, the first day of the two-day workshops most likely will center on basic techniques for maintaining records, such as the importance of climate and light control. Participants will focus on specialized needs on the second day. For example, municipal record keepers might learn about state requirements for record keeping or digitizing documents. Local historians might examine how to preserve, organize and access family papers. Regionally based archivists will join the Dartmouth staff as co-instructors, thus providing local contacts for workshop participants after the workshops.

"We hope the partnership aspect will continue to pay off in the long run," said Ostendarp. "By collaborating with local preservationists and including them in the workshops, hopefully it will help establish a support network for training and planning that people can come back to when they need help in the future." The grant also provides for as many as 60 towns or organizations to receive individualized, on-site consultations from the archivists. These sessions will include tours of town document storage areas and written reports detailing how storage conditions could be improved, said Ostendarp.

Having a consultant's report to back up their own knowledge could go a long way in helping local record keepers to improve storage conditions. "There is a clear understanding that these records are important with a capital 'I,' but not always an understanding of how they are important, so this provides information that will guide local officials in deciding what should be preserved and how to do it," said Ostendarp.

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