Tours galore!

One warm summer day, not too long ago, Dorothy, Heather, Cody, and I set out on an adventure.  Our purpose was to offer Heather, our 2012 Moore Endowed Summer Intern, and Cody, our new-ish graduate assistant, a broader look at library and archival work in our famously hot (but surprisingly cool) city.  Or maybe it was just to show them some nifty stuff.  We trekked out to a large patch of state land NE of downtown where an odd assortment of buildings sit.  Amid a ragtag collection of old, dilapidated structures used by state departments like DHEC sat the two gleaming buildings that interested us: the South Carolina Department of Archives and History and the USC Annex and Conservation Lab.

South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Our first stop was the State Archives where Senior Archivist (Extraordinaire) Chuck Lesser gave us an hour-long tour.  Chuck is retired but volunteers there a couple days a week–some good fortune for our beleaguered State Archives.  He took us into the exhibit space, the Reading Room, and the stacks (where some sorely needed new shelving had been added since our last visit).  Along the way, he talked about public v. personal records and keeping an archives open on a meager budget, amid other nuggets of info.  In the stacks, he showed us some of the most significant documents in SC history.  Can’t beat that.  Side note: their gift shop is worth a look.  I picked up an adorable baseball and palmetto-themed decal for my car.

After grabbing some lunch, we headed to USC’s Annex and Conservation Lab at the back of the state complex.  To get there, we had to drive by buildings with hazardous materials signs and even an old mental health hospital.  Vines creep up the side of this big old brick hospital, its windows boarded over or broken.  Out of one window, a doll smiles back at you.  Once you get over that creepy image, you round a corner, head down a hill, and emerging from some trees, there it is — the beautiful annex.

USC Libraries Annex and Conservation Lab

Conservators Lawryn and Sallie showed us around their incredibly well-equipped lab.  They have the ability to do a wide range of conservation work for all the library units (and occasionally the president and others), from fixing damaged manuscripts and broken books to making protective cases for maps, books, and objects.  They always have a ton of projects on their plate!  They also provide care for some items before they can be stored in “the box,” the huge storage unit that we would see during the next stop on our tour.

Dorothy and I about to take off, listening to Nelson’s instructions, “hands and feet inside at all times, please!”

Next door, manager Nelson Rivera told us about the impressive set of delivery services the Annex provides to USC faculty, staff, and students, and walked us through their process for efficiently storing materials.  Materials here, as you can see in the pictures, are not stored in traditional archives and library stacks.  (Check out their website to learn more.)  Then we got to do something that elicited many, many smiles — take a sky high ride through the stacks!

And here are Heather and Cody on their trip.  I documented each phase of it.

Cody and Heather about to head into a row.

They’re on their way! You can still see them at this point, so close to the start of the row.

Can you spot them? The vault is 200 ft. long and 38 ft. high. Here they are about 3/4 of the way down the row and almost to the top.

Whew, they made it.

A week later, Heather, Dorothy & I walked across campus to the South Caroliniana Library, another special collections library on campus with an amazing set of SC-related resources.  The Caroliniana was built in 1840 and has been used as a library for its entire history.  It sits at one end of the tree-lined and picturesque Historic Horseshoe, the oldest part of USC’s campus.  Craig Keeney, cataloger in their Published Materials division, showed us around.  We got to explore their stacks (they have five levels of stacks!), the balcony high above their gorgeous reading room, and their staff work spaces.  It was a worthy end to our tours indeed.

The front of the South Caroliniana Library, with its imposing columns and beautiful facade.

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