Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Conversation with Darren Bell

Darren Bell, archival assistant
Darren Bell, an archival assistant, is a history lover who supports preserving local history through technology, education, scholarship and advocacy. Bell spends much of his time preserving Arkansas publications and historically significant records by creating a master 35 mm negative or digitizing a copy of the material. He makes presentations about historical preservation, helps patrons with questions and is interested in community revitalization and local journalism. He recently took time from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about the Arkansas State Archives and what he does.

Q: What’s your job title, and how long have you worked at the State Archives?
A: I’ve been a microphotographer, archival assistant, with the Arkansas State Archives for four and a half years. As part of my job, I use a special negative known as microfilm to preserve documents as images.

Q: What do you do on a typical day at Archives?
A: A typical day for me at the Archives varies. I could be preserving publications on microfilm, developing and duplicating microfilm, cataloging microfilm, communicating with organizations that want to purchase copies of the microfilm, reaching out to publishers about microfilming a publication or assisting patrons in the Archives research room.

Q: How did you become interested in Arkansas history or working at the Arkansas State Archives?
A:  I learned a lot about Arkansas history while researching a Clark County collection and the John L. McCLellan Papers in college at Ouachita Baptist University. My interest continued in graduate school, where I studied historical preservation and how to interpret the state’s history using local resources. 

Q: What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve discovered while working at Archives? Why?
A:  The Archives microfilms over 150 publications from across Arkansas. Microfilming those publications has increased my knowledge of the history and significant issues happening in Arkansas communities, some of which I previously didn’t know existed. My position has also taught me the importance of local journalism.

Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans?
A:  The Arkansas State Archives has been preserving the state’s history on microfilm since 1957 and has the largest collection of Arkansas publications in the world. ASA has publications that do not exist anymore and information about communities that have dwindled in population. Some examples of discontinued publications are the National Panacea in Logan County, De Valls Bluff Times in Prairie County, Stephens Star in Ouachita County and Lead Hill Bugle in Boone County. The Archives also duplicates microfilm so that local libraries or historical societies can have copies of their local publications. 

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: There have been numerous instances with patrons that involve sharing what I have learned working as a microphotographer. I enjoy making the research process easier for patrons. I may be helping by describing the microfilm process, using various publications to chronicle a community’s history or improving the quality of an image by altering the lighting or digitization.

Q: How do you see archiving evolving in the future?
A:  Microphotography, as a method of preservation, has been around since the mid-1800s and is still considered the preferred method of preservation. What will continue to evolve in archival is how microfilm is accessed or digital material is preserved. The discussion will be whether and how to preserve original material in offsite or in cloud-based storage.

Q: What do you wish people knew about Archives?
A:  What I get asked about most often is how staff decide to preserve documents on microfilm rather than through digitization. Historical material is microfilmed on a 35 millimeter negative that has an estimated life expectancy of 500 years, which is a huge reason why microfilm is the preferred method of preservation. The 35 millimeter negative can then be duplicated or digitized for easier, online public access.