To celebrate Congress Week, April 1-7, 2016, South Carolina Political Collections (SCPC) is posting daily blogs reflecting on our history and celebrating our 25th anniversary.
Our early years were dedicated to developing procedures for archival work with legislative collections; with arranging and describing the major collections we had “inherited” from the Caroliniana’s Manuscripts Division; and with taking in over 1,400 ft. of Sen. Hollings’ non-current records. We completed the processing of the Olin Johnston collection, a project I had begun years earlier while supervising the Manuscripts Division. After Johnston, we tackled the papers of Bryan Dorn. Johnston and Dorn alone accounted for some 1,400 feet of material before processing. One major thing we learned during these years was how much time was required for a large complex processing project. Remember, there were no established “best practices.” By the time we had finished the Dorn collection, we knew an estimate of ten hours per foot of material was a reasonable bench mark. That mark guides our planning to this day and is generally accepted across the profession.
One major step in the national recognition of USC as a leader among congressional repositories occurred in 1994 when the Society of American Archivists first hosted the workshop I devised with Cynthia Pease Miller, then the archivist of the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the next ten years, we presented this two-day workshop, “The Acquisition, Processing, and Reference of Legislative Collections,” all over the country, sharing our expertise with a wide variety of archivists and administrators intent on developing congressional collections. Cynthia eventually wrote the SAA handbook, Managing Congressional Collections, published in 2008.
As SCPC matured, we could begin to seriously consider our future. With two major collections now open and described to the folder level, which greatly facilitated their study, we began to attract more scholars. 1996 proved a transformative year for SCPC. It was a time to rethink our staffing and budget. We hired a full time staff assistant to help with processing and the supervision of our reading room and we decided to work towards endowed support of our programming.
Under the urging of Dean of Libraries George Terry and with able mentoring from accomplished development officer Carol Benfield, SCPC set out to raise endowed funds. Our donors of collections and their friends have been most generous, and we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.
About half of our donors of collections also contribute to our endowments. Some are not able to make a gift commensurate with the expenses we incur in our work on those collections, but others give far more. In seeking a collection, we never tie the solicitation for the papers to the request for help in funding our work. By the time we reach out to a potential donor of a collection, we know we want their papers regardless of any financial support. As I note in a fundraising workshop, congressional donors are almost all skilled fundraisers. And often, they value what we do and want to help us.
We currently benefit from twelve endowments totaling over $1,500,000. In addition, we have received private contributions for specific projects and also several grants. And those numbers could change dramatically at almost any time as SCPC currently has several major proposals under consideration by potential contributors.
Our endowments do wonderful things. Originally, we hoped to underwrite our graduate assistantships. Our students help with all of the various work here, and typically, if they are looking at an archival career, the experience they gain with us make them attractive commodities on the archival job market. Our Bryan Dorn and John West endowments both support assistantships. Another endowment covers half of one of our faculty salaries. Next we added an endowment underwriting staff development such as travel to conferences. SCPC staff regularly attend the annual meetings of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress and the Society of American Archivists, allowing us to keep on the forefront of the profession. Next we added an endowment providing a stipend for a summer graduate assistant drawn from outside of South Carolina. We have benefited terrifically from these summer assistants. Then, we took some of the income from our Dorn Endowment to fund a research awards program for scholars planning significant study of our holdings. The Class of 1956 funded an endowment to underwrite an annual lecture named for former USC president Donald Russell. And, right now, we have an exciting proposal out to fund additional programming and outreach.
Our fundraising success provides benefits usually unnoticed by our visitors but it has had a tremendous impact on our service to the public. I often recall the words of Samuel Pepys, who on March 21, 1667, noted in his diary, “It is pretty to see what money will do.”