Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Our Heritage: The Role of Archives and Local Studies Collections

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Our Heritage: The Role of Archives and Local Studies Collections

Article excerpt

An examination of the functions of a modern local studies collection and of the role of local studies librarians in collecting, preserving, providing and promoting access to them by the community. Edited version of a paper presented at the WA heritage virtual convention July 2001 and published in `Local-link' 13(3) December 2001

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Picture this: a bright and cheerful room crammed with people from grannies to preschoolers--family groups, solitary and studious researchers, high school students, planners and architects, city workers checking on family history during their lunch breaks. In short, individuals from diverse backgrounds intent on their self appointed history related tasks. There is likely to be a muted buzz of conversation, the frequent swish of a self closing sliding door, the hum of a photocopier or whirr of a microfilm reader, the sound of fingers on keyboards. This is the reality of a modern local studies collection.

What is the function of such a collection, and what do local studies librarians do? Their role is fourfold: to collect, preserve and provide access to the history of the local area, and then to promote it throughout the local community. This paper examines each of these aspects in turn.

Collecting the evidence

Whatever the region or locality, the building blocks of evidence are basically the same. Local government rate records show ownership and land use over time. Post office directories flesh out the details with street addresses and names. The ornate and eyecatching commercial advertisements and trade listings in early issues often provide additional helpful information. Other standard tools for WA include Rica Erickson's four volume Bicentennial dictionary of Western Australians (1) and her follow up fifth volume (2) taking the coverage to 1914. They must be some of the most heavily used biographical tools in the state: they are rarely to be found on the shelves. Apart from these essentials, every area will need its own collection of relevant reference tools. In Fremantle these must include Broomhall's The Veterans (3) and Convicts in Western Australia (vol 9 of the Bicentennial dictionary) (4) as well as other more general works which give insight into the local area. Battye's Cyclopedia (5) and the earlier Twentieth century impressions (6) are useful sources of information on government, business and commercial interests of the time, while the diaries of George Fletcher Moore (7) and May Vivienne (8) both add extra insight into local matters, first in the 1840s and then again at the turn of the century.

Glancing back at the paragraph above, I note with wry amusement my predilection for books and the printed word as foundation sources of information. Like all other local studies collections, Fremantle now relies increasingly on websites, cds and other electronic databases for an ever widening range of information. It is easy to click and point to find histories of buildings from the City of Fremantle's networked municipal heritage inventory, or to search genealogical information from a plethora of online sources. The task is to ensure that clients feel comfortable with the tools and strategies needed for online searching for authoritative information, while at the same time reminding them that the net will not produce the complete answer to every question.

Standard printed sources in constant use include

* maps of the area showing successive changes over time

* street directories. Outdated issues are usually freely available once the new edition hits the market. A series (perhaps one issue each decade) provides easily accessible evidence of new development, new streets, road closures, realignments etc

* photographs--especially shots repeated from the same location, again showing successive changes over time

* targeted ephemera collections--real estate sales brochures, tourist pamphlets, publicity fliers for arts events or political rallies can be sources of potentially valuable information, and their value will increase over time

* local newspapers and the newsletters of local associations, schools, charity groups, business houses

* annual reports from local government, private enterprise and community associations

* research reports (including academic theses) on topics in the area. …

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