In 1955, the Southern Historical Association held its meeting in Memphis, Tennessee, and included a session entitled “The Historian and the Archivist.”  Three papers were presented:

Crittenden provided the viewpoint of the state archivist, first by describing the importance of physical preservation.  He identified the necessity “to save and preserve the records of undoubted historical significance” (216) — which initially meant preserving older records, but with the growing volume of modern records, archivists found it necessary to intervene and become involved with records administration so that historical materials would not be destroyed.  He asserted that  80-90% of records have no research value, while at the other extreme are important records “that throw light on the historical development of the State and its people” (217).  In between these two extremes is a “twilight zone” of records with undiagnosed value, about which the archivist must consult with experts in other fields.  For archival materials, Crittenden emphasized the importance of providing access:

  • library-like cataloging was no longer considered appropriate
  • guides or lists of materials/accessions
  • personal interviews with researchers
  • finding aid/descriptive inventory
  • index — though Crittenden was quick to point out, “Until and unless we have another depression and another WPA, or unless there is some totally unexpected development, the prospect for indexing vast quantities of records seems very dim indeed” (219).

Lastly, Crittenden acknowledged the rules and procedures of archives that inconvenience researchers.  He seemingly implied that if the limited hours of the search room interfered with necessary research, the archivist should make other arrangements with the researcher.

Peckham offered interesting perspectives about the “reciprocal obligations” of librarians and researchers.  (By librarian he included those who collect rare books and manuscripts.)  He warned that librarians made life difficult for themselves by trying to be all things to all people, and he chastised researchers who were content to allow librarians to wait on them rather than wading through materials themselves, thereby denying themselves the opportunity to exercise judgment and discover “tangential relations” (222).  The duties of librarians to researchers include:

  • acquire private manuscript collections
  • arrange and describe materials quickly
  • provide access
  • notify researchers of other relevant collections
  • suggest other types of sources
  • inform researchers of others doing work in the same area
  • allow materials to be copied when further research is necessary

Peckham also pointed out that librarians have obligations to the collections themselves, specifically, arrangement, physical protection, and limiting access to “competent scholars.”  Those who would not fall into this category include any who haven’t first completed research in secondary sources, “the newspaper feature writer who is looking for some dramatic or sensational incident that he can embroider into a story for the Sunday newspaper, or the genealogist who wants family data which will be of interest only to her children and a few relatives” (225).  For obvious reasons, kleptomaniacs and those who are careless in handling manuscripts should also not be granted access.  As for the duties of the researcher towards the librarian, Peckham specified:

  • obey repository rules
  • obtain permission before publishing quotations or illustrations
  • not deposit copies of materials into another repository — this broadened into a  wider discussion of the appropriateness of scholars’ requesting copies of materials; Peckham attributed to collector A. Edward Newton the evaluation that “a scholar who is satisfied to use photostats would be satisfied to kiss a pretty girl through a glass window” (227)

Johnston acknowledged the changing landscape of historical research, which became “virtually impossible without the fruits of long hours spent in research amid the treasures” of archival and manuscript agencies (229).  He focused his remarks on the controls developed by repositories to facilitate research:

  • card catalog: unhelpful because these cards do not indicate quantity, dates, or precise locations
  • summaries: make the card catalog marginally more useful by adding chronological pointers
  • card index: when completed for correspondence, it simplifies the effort of finding a particular letter, but without a comprehensive index, each collection must be searched individually
  • subject-person master index: “It is admitted that to make such detailed indexing available for all collections in all depositories would be a tremendous job; that is the reason why historians appreciate it so much when we do find it” (232).

Johnston also identified the importance of good reference services, pointing out that sometimes those in charge know the history but don’t know the materials, while the attendants know the materials but “know too little history to be of much expert service to all scholars” (232).  He concluded with a nice commentary on the scope and serendipity of historical research:

“although we may find in your manuscript and archival treasures more facts than we can master and more truth than we can exhaust, there will always be some facts we shall never find, some truths we shall never discover, unless it be in that day when St. Peter’s archives are available to us and final truth is known.  But until then we are content to use yours” (233).

 

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