Spring 1997

Manuscripts Division improves electronic access to collections

The Manuscripts Division of the South Caroliniana Library recently completed the third year of a retrospective conversion project to improve access to and increase awareness of holdings in the library. The project began in 1994 as a cooperative grant-funded venture with the South Carolina Historical Society, the Avery Research Institute for African American Studies, and the College of Charleston. After two years of grant funding, the University of South Carolina confirmed its support of the project by establishing the permanent position of manuscripts cataloger, insuring continuation of the retrospective conversion.

More than 2,000 collections held by the South Caroliniana Library now appear in USCAN, the online public access catalog of the University's libraries. USCAN provides the researcher with a list of materials in various formats. Someone researching the history of Spartanburg County, S.C. will now find in USCAN a list of relevant books and newspapers, in addition to the letters, diaries, and records of Spartanburg residents which are held by the Manuscripts Division. Benefits of the project include an improved level of description, increased access to various topics, and a higher profile for the library in the state-wide network of the university libraries system. Today, Manuscripts Division sees more researchers arrive from Thomas Cooper Library, refered by citations listed in USCAN. Our collections now serve a previously untapped group.

Many manuscripts descriptions now found in USCAN include a section labeled "Background" which gives biographical information germane to a better understanding of the description that follows. For example, the description for the papers of Robert Johnson (1677-1735) includes dates of his terms as proprietary and royal governor. These new and improved record descriptions reflect efforts to provide the context in which the correspondent or diarist wrote. The electronic format allows greater description of this context by allowing for more subject entries than is possible in the traditional card catalog. The number of access points which are available results in a greater number of names which can be included in a description, whether they be family correspondents, business clients, or witnesses to the signing of a will.

With the keyword searching capabilities available in USCAN, researchers now enjoy far greater access to topics than was possible with the three access points used in traditional card catalogs. Expansion of the number of topical subjects allows the researcher greater access to many topics not widely studied at the time many of these collections were originally described. New descriptions note materials of interest to researchers studying the history of such diverse topics as agriculture, labor, industry, African-Americans, and women, to name but a few.

Frequently, a physical inspection of the item results in a more refined description which is then reflected in the electronic description. Reading the shelves in this fashion brought to light a number of previously uncataloged items. One such find is a hand-drawn map dating to the 1780s titled, "A Representation of the County of Spartanburgh." The map records boundaries between North Carolina, the Enoree River, and "Indian territory," now Greenville County. Detailed drawings record locations of saw and gristmills, a forge, and houses, including the Moore family's home, Walnut Grove plantation.

For more information on the South Caroliniana Library's holdings of books, manuscripts, Modern Political Collections, and University Archives, please visit our home page on the World Wide Web:


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