Center for Archival Collections

Archival Chronicle

August 1993: Volume 12, Number 2

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Center for Archival Collections Marks Milestone

    The staff of the Center for Archival Collections pose in the foyer of the Jerome Library in 1993. Clockwise, from the upper left are: Robert Graham (Historical Collections of the Great Lakes), Susan Frost (Secretary), Stephen Charter (Reference Archivist), Marilyn Levinson (Curator of Manuscripts), A. J. Dufresne (then Microfilm Assistant), Eric Honneffer (Conservator), Paul Buckingham (then Graduate Assistant), Paul Yon (then Director), Ann Bowers (then University Archivist), Lee McLaird (Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections), Monica Manny (then Microfilm Assistant), Maura Johnson (then Ohio Historic Preservation Office Liaison) and Susan Hughes (then Micrographics Specialist).

In the opening paragraph of the Center's first Annual Report, Dr. Richard J. Wright, then Director, stated, "The Northwest Ohio-Great Lakes Research Center [changed to the Center for Archival Collections in 1976] was established in 1968 through the enthusiasm of the Department of History. Since that time it has slowly overcome the many obstacles that blocked its development and is now ready to blossom forth into a full-blown research facility..." And blossom it did! The Northwest Ohio-Great Lakes Research Center rapidly became the focal point for the study of local history in northwest Ohio and Great Lakes maritime history, two relatively untapped fields of American History.

The Center quickly established holdings in local government records. Initial trips to Williams, Allen, and Ottawa Counties built the Center's reputation as a depository for public records, making it an integral part of the Network of American History Research Centers. Comprised of five state universities and three historical societies, the Network's mission is to systematically acquire, preserve, and make accessible to researchers, students, and scholars materials relevant to Ohio's local history. Therefore, it was no accident that the CAC was founded on the principle of preserving local government records created by counties, municipalities, and townships. Strong collections of tax records, Commissioners' minutes, vital statistics, naturalizations, board of education records, board of election materials, county home and children's home records, deeds and mortgages, road and ditch records, and numerous other public records were actively transferred to Bowling Green for permanent preservation and access.

While the staff was acquiring these historical public records, they also found rich caches of the communities' Republican, Independent, and Democratic newspapers stored in the attics and basements of county courthouses. Special interest newspapers such as Greenback, Grange, and ethnic publications including German, Polish, and Hungarian language presses were also uncovered. Almost every community established a newspaper, and it became the Center's goal to acquire every available issue, as "grass roots history" was deeply embedded in the local press. Later, the Center initiated collecting programs with local publishers which successfully combined the courthouse finds with printing house holdings to create one of the most comprehensive regional collections of newsprint in the state.

Not until the early 1970s with the addition of staff did the Center begin collecting manuscripts and collections of private individuals and institutions. In 1971 the Center employed its first secretary, thus becoming a three-person office: one to administer the Great Lakes collections, one to administer the local history collections, and a secretary to administer the two administrators.

The first decade brought an immeasurable amount of attention to the Center and its staff. Acquisitions were strong and have remained so throughout the first twenty-five years. At first, the Center realized a very small number of researchers, most of whom focused their attention in the areas of the history of education, local history, and genealogy. Today, reference requests are in excess of 5,000 per year with the majority of the Center's users (65%) coming from the on-campus population. The initial decade also enabled the Center to expand its staff by adding a Microfilm Specialist to oversee a comprehensive micrographics program. Projects undertaken included the Michigan DNR Shipwreck Survey, Project Heritage (a computerized research project utilizing volunteers), and the establishment of Lake Log Chips, a weekly newsletter which kept the Center's name in front of the Great Lakes maritime community. Also, the Director became editor of the Northwest Ohio Quarterly, the Center began its first comprehensive microfilming of a local newspaper, the Toledo Ameryka-Echo, and the staff obtained its first grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission to microfilm local governmental records. This grant, coupled with a contract negotiated with the Genealogical Society of Utah to microfilm Ohio vital statistics, launched the Center's micrographics program toward its current reputation as one of the finest archival microfilming centers in the country. Rounding out the first decade's accomplishments were two survey projects. The Wood County Historical Church Records Survey, funded by the Title VI Comprehensive Employment Training Act, enabled the Center to employ staff to systematically inventory the records of all Wood County churches and to begin the process of preserving their holdings. The Ohio Labor Project, administered in cooperation with the Ohio Historical Society, resulted in fifty-seven new collections documenting labor union activity in northwest Ohio. By the close of the first decade the Center had surpassed sister institutions in collection strength and staff and was recognized as a leading historical records repository. Administratively, the Center also found a new home at Bowling Green State University within Libraries and Learning Resources, after spending several years in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate College.

The next decade, from 1978-1988, brought with it many innovative ideas, additional staff, and administrative problems. Foremost among the problems facing the staff was a significant backlog of approximately 2,000 linear feet of unprocessed collections, the result of an active acquisitions program. To decrease this backlog and to provide more professional expertise for the University's collections, a University Archivist/Curator of Manuscripts and Cataloger were employed. A Reference Archivist also was added to aid researchers, and a Great Lakes Archivist was hired to assist with the publication of Lake Log Chips and the processing and arrangement of the Great Lakes Collections. The Center also employed a full time Curator of Rare Books, and since adding this position, the Center has realized over 12,000 additional volumes to this unique and special area. The Ohio Historical Society employed a Local Records Specialist stationed at the Center to assist with the preservation of local records. Late in the 1970s the Center also participated in the Ohio Preservation Program and as a result of its efforts arranged, with the Landmarks Committee of the Maumee Valley Historical society, to employ its first Preservation Officer. In 1984, the Center employed a Conservator to address the question of paper preservation. By the end of the decade, the Center's staff was complete and all were eagerly and enthusiastically completing their tasks.

In 1983, because of the rapid growth of the Great Lakes and Local History Collections, the need to address administrative issues within each discipline, and current space limitations, the Great Lakes collections were separated and transferred to new facilities in the Owens-Illinois Industrial Park in Perrysburg, Ohio. The Institute for Great Lakes Research now has the largest collection of Great Lakes material in North America. [Now called the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, this collection has rejoined the Center for Archival Collections at the Jerome Library at BGSU.]

Other notable accomplishments during the second decade included the Center's second federal grant. The National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the Center a grant to collect materials relevant to Women's History. Today, the Center's Women's Studies Archives numbers just over two hundred collections. The Center also created the Archival Chronicle. [Now in electronic format,] This timely newsletter [was] mailed three times a year to over 2,000 patrons informing them of current archival news and acquisitions. In 1986 the Center also sponsored the first Conference on Local History. This annual conference has been a great success.

By the end of the decade the Center also produced two publications which have proven to be very helpful to the research community. Both The Guide to Local Government Records and The Guide to Newspaper Holdings are now available online.

Since 1987 the Center's programs have continued to grow. With the establishment of the paper conservation laboratory and the expansion of the microfilm lab, the Center continues to reach out to the northwest Ohio community, not only to acquire and preserve local historical documents but also to educate the public about their value and use. In twenty-five years the Center has amassed significant holdings of public records, manuscripts, newspapers, photographs, maps, university archives, and rare books. Its strengths lie in women's history, Civil War history, local history, church history, and institutional history. The Center's newspaper collections total over 900 titles and date from 1822. Its manuscript holdings are in excess of 2,000 collections. Public records are held for all nineteen counties and numerous villages and townships throughout the region. However, much of the Center's success and accomplishments could not have been achieved without its supporters, donors, contributors, volunteers, and especially its patrons. Through their donations, over 3,000 individuals and institutions have made the first twenty-five years successful and memorable. To our 50,000 visitors and patrons, we thank you! We sincerely hope we can call upon you to support our endeavors as we reach for our fiftieth anniversary.

--Paul D. Yon