Friday, October 2, 2020

Director's Letter for October

By David Ware, director and state historian

As I write this, September is dwindling, and the weather has turned cool enough to be brisk in the mornings. We are on the eve of what is this year a low-key observance of a very big-key thing: Archives Month. Around the nation, October marks the time when archives, libraries and special collections find ways — generally low-keyed because that’s pretty much what we are — to modestly blow our own horns.

Here in Arkansas, we observe the month of October as Arkansas Archives Month, designated by a gubernatorial proclamation. This year’s proclamation, signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, is in fact before me as I type this. In past years, we have marked Archives Month by issuing a handsome poster, sponsoring a symposium or lecture and setting up an exhibit in the Capitol Rotunda, showing off some of our portable documentary treasures and talking to visitors about what we are, “why we are,” what we take care of and what we can help researchers find in our collections.

This year, things are a little different: In common with many of our peers across the state and nation, we’ve de-emphasized in-person programming and installations while putting more time and resources into our virtual outreach channels — like this online newsletter, for instance. No poster this year, either — but we will have some choice graphics from our collections highlighted on our Facebook page to remedy this gap.

Our ways and means of interpreting our story to the public may have changed, but the aim remains the same: getting the word out about what we are and what we do. We’re often confused with libraries — which is understandable. Archives are sometimes seen as mysterious places full of obscure documents meant for internal use only, difficult to access and interesting only to historians. The popular understanding of records and archives by the public is not clear. Some people think that archives are a little spooky — which may make the month containing Halloween appropriate for celebrating and promoting them!

So, what are archives? Archives are collections of documents and other records created, received and maintained by organizations or persons because of legal obligations, the transaction of business or for other purposes—including cultural ones. The term “archives” also refers to the institutions, such as ours, that preserve such collections.

Archives are the places in which the “things that matter” live — and are kept safe. They preserve the vital evidence about the economic, political and social development of humankind. Archives are diverse, both in sources and formats: They can be created by almost any individual or group, including government agencies or departments, and exist in many forms: paper, film, magnetic or digital records. Archives preserve information for the long haul; that information comes in many different flavors! And in great quantities, too: dealing with the growing extent of collections is a challenge that faces archivists, records managers and librarians here and everywhere.

The Arkansas State Archives, established as the Arkansas History Commission back in 1905, is one of a number of institutions that preserve and make available the documentary matter of Arkansas. Hutchinson’s proclamation of September 1 recognizing Archives Month notes that: “numerous municipal, county, university and private archives … maintain valuable legal, administrative, fiscal and historical documents of our citizens’ everyday lives and activities.” The bottom line is this: We’re not alone in working to preserve what’s important, which is a good thing because there’s a lot of work to be done!

Through observing Arkansas Archives Month, we hope to:

1.         Promote awareness of the importance of records and archives, in order to make it understood that records and archives preserve the foundations of our rights and even our culture;

2.         Remind senior decision makers of the benefits of records management for good governance and development;

3.         Raise understanding, in both public and private sectors, of the necessity of — and work involved in — preserving archives for the long-term and providing access to them;

4.         Promote and interpret the unique, extraordinary and rare documents — the cool stuff, one might say — preserved in archival institutions.

So — Happy Arkansas Archives Month for 2020. We look forward to serving you, virtually or with a little luck, in-person, in months to come.


As we head into Arkansas Archives Month, a time to celebrate preservation, it is also a time to note the passing of one of our best-known archivists. Linda Ruth Pine, longtime head of Archives and Special Collections for UA-Little Rock, died in Little Rock on Sept. 16. Archivists and scholars around the state knew her far better than I and can doubtless tell far better stories about her — her sense of humor, her lack of patience with fools, her love for her rescued dogs, her solid professionalism and knowledge of her collection — so I will simply acknowledge my debt to her.

When I moved to Little Rock, my first job was as a part-time contract worker in the UALR Archives. Linda gave me a broad introduction to Arkansas history, particularly of the 20th century. While there I learned about Winthrop Rockefeller, Lum and Abner, the saga of the old Arkansas Gazette and much more. I made the acquaintance of Arkansas scholars, read widely and began to appreciate my new home state. From working for Linda, I went to a temporary historian’s position at the Arkansas Capitol that lasted nearly 19 years. Linda Pine started me off in the right direction; a lot of what I have been able to do was made possible by that good start. For this and for more, Linda, thanks.