Happy American Archives Month! This October, archives large and small around the country are celebrating all of treasures that America’s archives have to offer. Here at the Delaware Historical Society, we are joining the fun for the first time, and we are excited to spread the word about the important services that archives provide and to discuss where they might heading in the future.
So what exactly is an archives anyway? At the most basic level, it’s a place that you can go to get information. Archives contain mostly primary sources, or materials that were created at the time that someone is studying. Many types of documents can be primary sources – letters, diaries, photographs, newspaper articles, advertisements, posters, financial documents, and even things like receipts or wrappers that you might normally discard. All of these materials are brought together and stored in a way that promotes both access (you can find the information you need) and preservation (the materials are kept as safe from damage and deterioration as possible so that they will stay usable for years to come).
Archives come in all shapes and sizes. You may have heard of the National Archives, which is the U.S. Government agency tasked with keeping the most important government documents that were created all the way from colonial times to the present. There are also many other kinds of archives which collect everything from business records to local history to the papers of famous authors, artists, or other celebrities. Some archives, like DHS, are part of larger museums or libraries that focus on a particular subject and collect materials that are specific to that mission.
The Delaware Historical Society’s mission is to explore, preserve, share, and promote Delaware history, heritage, and culture to strengthen our community. Our staff works hard each day to achieve this goal, and our collections are central to fulfilling this mission. Because we are a small institution, each member of our staff wears many hats! On a typical day, you can find us working on a variety of different tasks, including:
- Exploring research topics related to Delaware history for our publications, exhibits, and programs.
- Preserving research materials by adding new items to our collections; storing our collections in safe ways; and monitoring items to protect against threats from moisture, mold, bugs, and chemicals.
- Sharing our collections by answering reference questions; providing access to materials for researchers; cataloging our collections in our online catalog; and creating exhibits and programs for the public.
- Promoting Delaware history through our own museums and publications as well as area magazines, newspapers, and TV and radio stations, and by working with other institutions and groups to strengthen the community and spread the word about our state’s rich heritage.
Over the next few weeks, we will be exploring some of these activities in greater depth and also talking about how you can get involved! Stay tuned as we discuss some of our newest outreach programs, talk about how you can create an archives of your own family’s history, and think about where archives are headed in the 21st century. It’s sure to be an exciting October, so check back often and don’t be afraid to jump into the conversation – we would love to hear your thoughts!
— Jennifer M.