Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 00: ARCHIVES
TAGS: Archive About; archives; Pine Mountain Settlement School; education; metadata; indexing; finding aids; cataloging; assessment reports; conservation; preservation; correspondence; libraries; storage; archive resources; guides; inventory guidelines; disposition schedules; special collections rationale; Helen Wykle; Ann Angel Eberhardt; Preston Jones; Pine Mountain Settlement School Board of Trustees; Education Committee;
The ARCHIVE at Pine Mountain is more than just a room of material about dead people and disappeared buildings and mountainsides. It is the aggregate of the full sentient institution. Pine Mountain Settlement School IS an archive, a special collection, a national treasure, and a very difficult entity to fully gather under the rubric of the traditional “ARCHIVE.”
The ARCHIVE at Pine Mountain joins the handful of surviving settlement institutions of Appalachia that joined in a partnership in the early 1980s to develop a conservation and preservation strategy that would protect this unique collection of history and a people. The conservation medium chosen for preserving the institutional record of Pine Mountain Settlement School and the community it serves, is largely film and paper and microfilm. The standard film preservation practice of contact prints for photograph material and microfilm for documents have given the collections some security. But, this valuable process only scratched the surface and stirred up a rich soil that is the ARCHIVE of Pine Mountain now growing within a digital world that has redefined “information” as well as preservation and conservation. Claude Shannon, who along with Alan Turing, was a noted cryptographer and code breaker, told us long ago that “Information, though related to the everyday meaning of the word, should not be confused with it.” Information is as James Gleick says, “uncertainty, surprise, difficulty, and entropy.”
At Pine Mountain the deep forest, open fields, pristine air and water, the surrounding community with its sincere, bright, devotional, and struggling population; the 24 buildings, stonework, trails, and play equipment; the 25 and more staff that annually hold the programs in their care; the many events that stick to the visual and auditory memory of those who have stayed long enough to be captured by the magic of the place —–this is what is hidden behind the standard descriptions found in the Pine Mountain Settlement School records. The undiscovered and implied information resources are what this ARCHIVAL RECORD attempts to capture and reveal. The archival collection is an infosphere. It is in these dark or brilliant corners of life that overlap with the physical site of Pine Mountain Settlement School, that the true nature and understanding of the Pine Mountain Settlement School community comes to life.
The records gathered under ARCHIVE About follow a process of individual discovery and the attempts that past directors, staff, volunteers, and interested parties have given to associated documents. Yet, much remains to be discovered and created and it will most likely follow the same enigmatic process that deposited the first one-hundred plus years . The gathering and the discovering that goes on in archives all point the way to the multiple definitions and benefits of an ARCHIVE collection to the communities who helped to create it.
DISCOVER, USE AND LEARN
“Most of the biosphere cannot see the infosphere, it is invisible, a parallel universe humming with ghostly inhabitants … We are aware of the many species of information … Fred Dretske, a philosopher said (1981) ‘In the beginning there was information. The word came later… The transition was achieved by the development of organisms with the capacity for selectively exploiting this information in order to survive and perpetuate their kind.’ We keep them alive in air-conditioned server farms. But we cannot own them … who is master and who is slave?” James Gleick, The Information, p. 323
“The death drive is not a principal. It even threatens every principality, every archontic primacy, every archival desire. It is what we will call, later on, le mal d’archive, ‘archive fever’. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever p.12
“To arrange a library is to practice in a quiet and modest way, the art of criticism.” Jorge Luis Borges
“… history has always been a critique of social narratives and, in this sense, a rectification of our common memory. Every documentary revolution lies along this same trajectory.” Paul Ricoeur
“Of all the places where documents pool and accrete, people’s desks are undoubtedly my favorite. They offer such a rich snapshot of modern life, of modern practices and pressures. Looking at one is a bit like examining a tidepool. At first it seems static and uninteresting. But once you start to pay attention, you begin to see what a complex eco-system is present, and how much richly structured and diverse activity is going on right before your eyes.”David M. Levy, (2001) Scrolling Forward: Making sense of documents in the digital age, p.121
Melville Dewey, author of the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) System had a super sense of time and archiving. According to author Dee Garrison, Dewey had an obsessive-compulsive desire to control his world — a characteristic often unjustly assigned to librarians and archivists.
“The attempt to control all eventualities presented time as a special problem to Dewey. Time, an enemy to be overcome, was a threat to all his plans and projects. Since a guarantee of the future was his prime concern, he experienced time in the present as being wasted unless it were filled to the brim. The present did not have significance in itself because his interest was solely in the future .. Dewey sought to dismiss time as a realistic limitation on his life. He craved certitude — desired to foretell, foresee, and exert control before the fact. Thus Dewey’s lifelong concentration on detail is best understood as a measure of self -protection.”Dee Garrison, (2003) Apostles of Culture.
Archives and archivists are not neutral. Further, there is no stability in today’s digital archive and “archivist” seems to have lost its aura. Archives, like closed collections of any kind, serve no function other than providing rent or bragging rights, or exclusivity. Archives were not created only for the ubiquitous archive user, the historian — or for the scholar. It is important to understand the institutional value and the evidentiary value of collections but today archives must bridge the divide and look to the community served by the information gathered about them. Open archives, digital archives, community collections, have a larger audience than they have ever known.
It is the belief of the creators of this digital archive that in the near future archives and community collections will need to look toward a broader spectrum of use. Reaching marginalized communities is a noble desire, but without doubt, some collections will also be used for nefarious purposes. As a nation, a joined world, we are all of us the “Scholar,” the information gatherer, and we all need to guard our identity through responsible research and curation of our shared collections.
On a basic level, most of us want to know who our ancestors were as part of our own identity and possibly destiny. We want to explore gender bias, cultural diversity, morals and the multiple mentalities that make us tick or make us sick. At Pine Mountain Settlement and in the surrounding community we want to evaluate our past practice against our current practice to determine if we are doing our best to sustain, organize and retain our workers and serve our community. We want to maintain our mission consistent with ideals that move us responsibly forward. Archives and collections gather the past but they are also roadmaps to the future. As archivists, librarians, and collection managers, we are charged with processing the future as much as processing the past. We can only do a good job if we are in partnership with the entity that creates social memory — the community of interest. We are in a land of contested borders AND contested information.
“It has never been the archivist’s responsibility to provide a descriptive finding aid that is responsive to all the questions of all of their users all of the time.”
“Closed archives affect historical understanding.” … and empathyFrancis X. Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg, (2011) Processing the Past: Contesting Authority in History and the Archives, p.155.
ARCHIVAL COLLECTIONS: The Current Keepers
Ann Angel Eberhardt
Helen Hayes Wykle
Pine Mountain Settlement School