Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Cool Million, Or Archives by the Numbers

One of the many pieces of history housed in the Archives Department: A scrap of a letter written between 1861 and 1865 to Mrs. Avery from "Co. 'C' 14th Regt. Tennessee Cavalry, Campbell's Brig. Jackson Division Forrest's Corps." It reads, in part, "your kindness to me was unexpected but let me assure you that no one could have appreciated it more than I did. I am a stranger in this place. Please accept my most sincere thanks and (allow) me to be your friend."

Each year the Birmingham Public Library Archives serves thousands of researchers from throughout the Birmingham area and serves as a resource to the world. In 2012, the Archives assisted researchers from 32 states (from Maine to Florida, Maryland to California) as well researchers from Australia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Ireland, Japan, and Spain.

Our researchers include local people investigating the history of houses and buildings; college students researching class papers, theses, and dissertations; scholars researching articles, books, and museum exhibitions; and film makers working on documentaries and other motion picture productions. To conduct their research, visitors use historic documents such as letters, diaries, and scrapbooks; photographs; maps; architectural drawings; and sound recordings. Most items are stored in files, and a file might contain one photograph or 50 letters. Each file that a researcher requests is pulled by a staff person and delivered to the researcher at their table. Often it is necessary for the staff person to explain the items, how to interpret the information they contain, and instruct the researcher on how to handle fragile documents without causing damage. If the researcher asks for copies, all copies are made by the Archives staff.

The Archives staff track all files pulled each day, and recently we hit a milestone. Over the past decade (2002 to 2012) the Archives staff pulled 1,105,022 files for researchers (and then put those files back). Let’s say that again: one million, one hundred and five thousand, twenty-two files. That’s a lot of trips to the stacks.

Submitted by Jim Baggett
Archives Department
Central Library

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