Congressional repositories like SCPC serve a broad audience ranging from younger students, perhaps working on a History Day project, to senior scholars researching their next book.
Years ago, to help excite people about the potential of our collections, we began a web initiative titled In Their Own Words (ITOW) which presents selected materials from our most important collections. These currently present documents, photographs, audio clips and other materials from the papers of Sol Blatt, Butler Derrick, Bryan Dorn, Fritz Hollings, Bob McNair, Modjeska Simkins, Dixie Walker, and John West. The labor-intensive nature of this process limits us to a goal of producing one ITOW annually. We are currently working on an ITOW for Olin Johnston. When the University received Senator Johnston’s papers after his death in 1965, it became our first major congressional collection.
At least one other congressional repository has adopted our ITOW initiative. When speaking to the public and to my fellow congressional archivists about ITOW, I always note that one of our goals is to provide original source materials that can be used in the classrooms of South Carolina’s public schools. Whether or not this is actually happening, ITOW certainly makes such use possible.
The Digital Public Library of America does something that is similar but much more focused. Its Primary Resource Sets typically provide 16 to 20 documents, editorial cartoons, photographs, and audio and film clips related to a specific issue. On a recent visit to their web site I was drawn to their selections relating to the Equal Rights Amendment, the labor movement among West Virginia coal miners, and the Scopes Monkey Trial. South Carolina is well-represented in the ERA set with two wonderful cartoons by our own Kate Salley Palmer which we provided for that purpose.
We are currently debating the best use of our limited resources to generate greater use of SCPC holdings. We recently mounted a major exhibit looking at the evolution of congressional collecting since the creation of SCPC in 1991 and plan to renew an active exhibit schedule with two major exhibits annually. And we will continue mounting smaller exhibits in the Hollings Library’s Brittain Gallery and will soon add a second exhibit case to provide us more space for these popular and often more topical exhibits.
Zach Johnson joined our staff this summer and will divide his attention between processing collections, planning and implementing our exhibit schedule, and outreach to undergraduate and graduate students and teaching faculty across the state.
As any regular reader of this blog knows, we are excited by our work. It seems almost every day we discover treasures among our materials and we want to share our excitement about the issues, events, and people documented in our collections with the broadest possible public. I’ll be interested to see what the next year brings in terms of outreach for SCPC.
By Herb Hartsook