Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Letter from the State Historian

Dr. David Ware, state historian and
director of the Arkansas State Archives

As I write this message, I have been in this post for a little over two months.  Over the last 20 years I have approached the Archives or, as it was called, the Arkansas History Commission, as a patron and, periodically, a collaborator; I have always been delighted with its wealth of holdings and by the helpfulness and expertise of its staff. Two months “on the inside” have only deepened my appreciation of the Archives’ collections and the professionalism of those who are my colleagues.

The developments of recent weeks have forced some changes in how we conduct our work, but rest assured, we are still at work and serving our patrons. Like many of you, the Archives staff of our three physical locations have been authorized to work remotely. Our research room, as well as our NEARA and SARA facilities, are closed to the public, but managers and administrative staff are answering queries that reach us by telephone, email, social media and, of course, conventional mail. New blog posts will appear regularly and as for our newsletter – well, here it is!

As importantly, our website and digital collections, effectively our “fourth location,” are available and ready for researchers and browsers alike. The current health emergency has underlined for us the need to refine and expand our online offerings, so several Archives staff members are at work preparing new content to be uploaded for access, beginning this summer, on our new website and digital collections platform. Our aim is to be able to offer more information – documents, images, lesson plans and other materials – through an accessible and intuitive portal.

Other important work continues during this period of semi-closure.  In recent weeks, we have received or retrieved significant items and collections. Our microphotography staff continue work on preparing our contributions to the National Digital Newspapers Program, an undertaking of the Library of Congress in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Humanities. This is a long-term effort to develop an Internet-based, free searchable database of U.S. newspapers with descriptive information and select digitization of historic pages, which will be permanently maintained at the Library of Congress. The ASA, with its unmatched microfilmed collection of early Arkansas imprints, is the state’s NDNP partner. Good things will come of this, and we will keep you abreast of progress in newsletters to come.

Our staff have other projects in hand as well, including transcribing our venerable and still-useful card-based Biographical into a searchable digital format. This involves staff members trying to translate previous compilers’ sometimes obscure abbreviated citations for newspapers, magazines and other publications: What seemed perfectly clear to archivists of decades ago may be a little less so for their present-day successors, but the Archives staff are game for this challenge!

It may seem as though the world has ground to a near-halt, but we are here – both to carry on the day-to-day work of the Archives and to serve those who depend upon us. We’ll do our best to share information with you through social media and other outlets. We look forward to hearing from you and, hopefully sooner rather than later, welcoming you back to our “brick and mortar” locations in Little Rock, Washington and Powhatan.

Thank you for caring about Arkansas, past and present!

David Ware