Governor’s House Goes to Miami

An agenda cover titled "The Past is Present" for the Society of Florida Archivists Annual Meeting on May 8-10, 2019, in Miami, Florida.

Hi I’m Claire Barnewolt and I’m the library assistant at Governor’s House. Last week I was fortunate enough to have my first experience at the Society of Florida Archivists’ Annual Meeting.  Held in Miami, this meeting brought together approximately one hundred archivists and librarians from the state of Florida, all bent on identifying and preserving Florida’s unique historical collections.

I presented on our collection at Governor’s House Library, which consists of 7,000 print photographs, 5,000 negatives, and 16,000 slides that originated from the operating years of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board in the mid-twentieth century.  In May 2017, Governor’s House received an NHPRC (National Historic Publications and Records Commission) Access to Historical Records grant to process and arrange the materials in our stewardship.  It was a two-year grant, wrapping up next month.  At this SFA meeting, I joined forces with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum’s Collection Manager Tara Backhouse to discuss the challenges and opportunities that come from completing a grant-funded project, serving to make collections more accessible to the general public.

A color photograph of a hand holding a slide over a light table with more slides in a sleeve.

I primarily discussed our 35mm slides, which were a popular photo format throughout the tenure of the Preservation Board.  Our archivist Laura and I found slides in the library that documented the Board’s restoration and reconstruction processes of just over thirty buildings in downtown St. Augustine, but also found slides depicting Board members’ travels to Europe and Latin America, purchased educational slideshows, archaeological slides, slides of St. Augustine landmarks outside of the Board’s jurisdiction, and slides of special events and celebrations in town.  It irked us that these slides were interfiled with other media, or in mislabeled sleeves.  Many slides were not dated beyond having a date stamp from the slide’s manufacturer.  Any original order of the slides was long since disturbed.

To overcome such challenges, Laura and I used other resources in the library such as block and lot folders for context to decide where certain slides would go (St. Augustine, since 1788, has been structured by some iteration of Mariano de la Rocque’s block and lot system, which historic preservationists and archaeologists still use as well).  When overwhelmed with stacks of unidentifiable slides, we made piles of slides that could be described as either “people,” “places,” or “things.”  These were broken down into further subseries such as staff, interpreters, landmarks, crafts, events, or exhibits.  We used the grant money to purchase rehousing materials such as new sleeves, acid free folders, and boxes.

We undertook the same process with our collection’s negatives, albeit not to the same detail, as it is more difficult to ascertain what is going on in a negative strip.  The print photographs will be arranged in the order which we have delineated with slides and negatives and online finding aids will be available for all of these materials by the end of June 2019.

A graphic of a taped piece of paper with "What's Going On In This Picture? Processing Slides At Governor's House Library" written on it.

My talk was met with much interest and head-nodding.  St. Augustine, advertised as the Oldest City permanently settled by Europeans, not just in Florida, but in all of the United States, has a very unique history and a unique collection at Governor’s House Library created by the HSAPB.  Several people came up to me expressing the wish to get additional tips for managing a large unprocessed photograph collection.  Tara, of the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, hosted photo identifying sessions where the public came to her museum and helped identify figures in photographs taken by The Seminole Tribune.

In fact, attending this conference introduced me to so many inspiring professionals and organizations that returning to work this week, I feel I am looking at objectives with a fresh pair of eyes.  I saw a panel by Laura Capell and Gabriella Williams on the digitization of the Pan American World  Airways, Inc. records at the University of Miami which is also being done with a grant from the NHPRC.  This digitization process is making more than 110,000 pages of content available to online researchers and UM Libraries is also creating an accompanying online exhibit.

I also saw a presentation by Dr. Anthony Atwood of the Miami Military Museum and Memorial.  He spoke on the restoration process of his building, which has been reinforced with hurricane straps and relocated to the grounds of Zoo Miami.  Laura Hortz Stanton, from the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts, appropriately also spoke about the planning involved in preserving one another’s collections.  She discussed how to make effective decisions, taking into account risk assessments, environmental surveys, and collections surveys, to create preservation plans for the next three to five years.  Simone Clunie, from Florida Atlantic University Libraries, spoke about how Special Collections used a donation of T-shirts to create an exhibition on the ways T-shirts have promoted political discussion since their beginnings as men’s underwear.

All of these presenters and others I met at SFA were so welcoming and have already been integral in my professional development at Governor’s House.  I thank them and the Society for Florida Archivists for putting on such a successful meeting.

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