A Small Celebration of Archives

Since the spring, we have had the pleasure of working with Cora McDaniel who is a TU student and part of the library’s A-LIST program.

She has written this celebration of archives in honor of American Archives Month which is every October.

American Archives Month

So what exactly is an archive?

The word evokes memories of things from the past, or old things gathering dust. Something long dead that we don’t need to bother remembering.

This is most certainly not the case. 

My first exposure to archives was working with my mom in the South Carolina room of the Anderson Public Library, which happened to also house a small public archive. People would come to my mother, often with small treasures in their hands, and would ask her to find out more about where they came from. Many people visited this place to find out their histories, the names of departed relatives, and even to reconnect with people they’d lost contact with. 

My mother took this work very seriously, and more than once I saw her patrons shed a tear when they touched the name of a family member, or saw a photo she was able to drag up from the depths of that room. Often, these patrons had their history taken from them (this was South Carolina, after all), and it meant a lot to them to reclaim some of it.

I was probably 12 or 13 at the time, and definitely more of a hindrance than a help to my mother, so often she would set me loose to explore the less sensitive materials. I remember one afternoon exploring the records of one roll of microfilm, trying to figure out what had happened to a local girl who’d gone missing. The microfilm contained a series of newspapers (I couldn’t tell you what the dates were), and I’d seen a headline that had me hooked: “Local girl drowns herself in the river because she didn’t want to do dishes”. It was a ridiculous, crazy story that made me desperately want to know more.

It was a much older newspaper, and there weren’t many details about the girl – just a name and a dodgy explanation as to why she’d gone missing. I spent the rest of the day scrolling through the microfilm reader, hoping to find some information about the girl, some follow-up to that crazy story. As I read through the papers, I began to hear a voice coming through. This was a real person speaking to me through pages written long before I was even born, and I was mesmerized.

This is the beauty of archives: they’re like real-life time machines full of goodies and treasures. They are the keepers of our stories, an anchor to a past we might otherwise lose touch with. So this month, stop by your local archive (Towson has a pretty cool one) and try and learn something new about where you are, or where you’ve come from.

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