01/24/10 — WCC librarian leads effort to preserve community's history

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WCC librarian leads effort to preserve community's history

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 24, 2010 1:50 AM

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Dr. Aletha Andrew, director of library services at Wayne Community College, sifts through materials contributed to the college that will be preserved and archived for future reference.

To the untrained eye, an office nestled above the library at Wayne Community College is being used to store castoffs from basements and attics -- boxes brimming with pos-ters and newspaper clippings, dusty scrapbooks and yellowing photographs.

But to Dr. Aletha Andrew, director of library services whose master's degree focused on archive management, it is a gold mine.

In 2007, the college's 50th anniversary, she was asked to start archiving materials as a way to preserve WCC history.

"We started with institutional history -- yearbook collections, Campus Voice, scrapbook collections, photos," she said.

The effort has spawned other projects, including the "legacy collection" that will spotlight two familiar faces with local ties -- Johnny Grant, who went on to become honorary mayor of Hollywood, and Clifton Britton, beloved drama teacher at Goldsboro High School and adviser of the Goldmasquers.

Both men have passed away, she said, increasing the challenge of collecting memorabilia from either directly.

But that is not unusual, Dr. Andrew said. In fact, the effort typically takes on the appearance of rummaging through an estate sale or digging up artifacts in an abandoned home.

"It's usually in a box, a sack. It's been in someone's closet. There's dust," she said, pointing around the tiny room where a number of items have already been gathered.

Large boxes hold GHS yearbooks and scrapbooks dating back to the 1940s and 1950s, a tarnished silver serving dish and numerous videotapes, which will have to be converted to DVD, Andrew noted.

And all of it must be preserved as much as possible.

"We'll start out with what can be worked on and can we keep photographs? Is this paper going to deteriorate after awhile?" she said, pointing to a fading black-and-white picture with writing beneath. "You want to preserve this caption, which is done in somebody's handwriting.

"We have to ask, what do we have and what do we need to do to keep it in the best possible order?"

Much of what is received is in good condition, but even so, most people lack the expertise to know how to preserve things like photographs and newspaper clippings. Little things -- like avoiding the use of tape, paper clips and glue -- can make all the difference, she said.

"Paper clips are one of the first things to go, unless you use the plastic paper clips," she said, explaining how the metal clips typically rust or over time leave behind a residue. "Never put a post-it on anything because the acid in it will eat through old photographs, plus anything with that kind of glue will attract dirt. And lamination is death, because you can never get to it."

As items are collected, they are initially put into boxes that are clean and acid-free, Dr. Andrew said. Once identified, they are labeled for future reference.

The more information accompanying the items, the better. But in most cases, it takes some investigative work to get the back-story and to put together pieces of the puzzle.

"Who did it belong to and how did it get here? From whom to whom to whom, trace its pedigree," Dr. Andrew said. "It helps to authenticate it. ...

"You get whatever you can and you interview whoever you can. Like this jacket that says it was from a Hollywood Christmas parade -- was it presented to (Grant) before the parade or afterwards as a memento? Did he wear it?"

The ultimate goal is to preserve the integrity of a collection.

Short of that, the aim is to reflect the subject.

"It's like doing a story and you have to figure out what's fact and what is assumption," she said.

In addition to clippings and other memorabilia, the lost art of letters can be especially beneficial in such a collection. She is anxiously anticipating the promise of correspondence from people connected to the two men.

"You get to know that person in a way that you are not going to get to know them from a book," Dr. Andrew said.

Donations, though appreciated, must be secured legally, with a "deed of gift" required to ensure that the donor has signed over items to be used for a collection. The archivist said that is a protective measure to protect both the gift and the giver.

In addition to the collection room, the library also has another area sectioned off for storing materials. It is a temperature-regulated area, where scrapbooks and larger items have been reformatted and preserved, while the original versions are boxed nearby.

Library patrons can access some of those materials, simply by visiting the office and making a request to view items at a nearby desk set up for that purpose. Similar to the card catalog used to search for typical library fare, online "finding guides" contain a listing of what is available.

More information on the WCC historical archives is also available on the college's Web site, www.waynecc.edu.

And if all goes well, plans are to have the two collections far enough along for a public viewing by year's end, Dr. Andrew said.

"We're hoping to get things in by Christmas, because Christmas was when Britton always did the 'Shepherd's Song,'" she said.

They are already off to a good start, noted Donna Potter, lead library technician, who has been working alongside Andrew on the projects.

"The library staff just always saved materials that were about the college," she said. "They're very fortunate to have someone who's a professional in archives."

Since Dr. Andrew's arrival more than two years ago, it's been a "learning process" for everyone as the library director has trained many and passed along some of her expertise.

"I certainly have learned a lot about college history and the community," Ms. Potter said.

Dr. Andrew shrugged off all the credit, saying she continues to learn as she goes.

Of late, she has visited other places that have done more extensive archiving, she said, including Lenoir Community College and East Carolina, the latter which also has some materials relating to "Mr. B" from the years when he taught there.

"We're also going to the Ava Gardner Museum (in Smithfield) to learn about storing clothing and textiles," she added.