Archives Rescue Corps works to preserve hidden history

Group encourages Alaskans to save old records and documents

Posted: Monday, February 02, 2009

Part of Alaska's history may be tucked away in your basement. You may have inherited interesting archives and not even know it. Worse, those old papers of your grandmother's you just threw out may have been worth saving - but nobody told you.

Katie Spielberger / Capital City Weekly
Katie Spielberger / Capital City Weekly

Historian Frances Field is working to help Alaskans discover and preserve the documents, photographs, letters and papers that make up the state's archives.

"People tend to think more of objects when (thinking about) saving history," Field said.

And for this reason, key parts of history often are neglected, she said.

As project coordinator for the Archives Rescue Corps, a state project, Field is working to recruit volunteers and encourage people to register their archives with ARC. So far, Field has recruited 15 volunteers throughout the state and is looking for more. The only communities in Southeast with a volunteer are Juneau and Wrangell.

The first step for the Rescue Corps is finding archives. Archives could be located in a variety of places: churches, museums, libraries, non-profit organizations, fraternal organizations, Native corporations and organizations, long-time businesses, city municipality offices, schools, federal offices, hospitals and newspapers.

The archives most likely to be in danger of disappearing are those in private collections, Field said.

"There are some very important private collections," she said. "Private collections often contain amazing archives. If that person passes away and doesn't tell (their relatives) the importance of it, it often gets thrown away ... and then that history is gone forever."

Once archives have been located, their owners or caretakers are encouraged to fill out a short survey online to help the Archives Rescue Corps assess their needs. They will then be able to receive free training and assistance in how to take care of and preserve their archives.

"We're just encouraging people to be responsible," Field said.

Another of the program's goals is to keep archives in the state. Churches often have very significant archives, but unfortunately these are frequently sent to church headquarters out of state, Field said, making it near impossible for Alaskans to access them.

Field, who grew up in Ketchikan, first got involved in museum studies with the interest of preserving Alaska history. The ARC mission ties in well with this year's 50th Anniversary of Statehood celebration, she said. So far 27 archive-holders have registered with the program and Field hopes that hundreds more will follow.

"I truly believe that we create our history every single day," Field said. "It's never too late to start taking care of it."

For more information or to get involved, contact Frances Field by phone at 465-1310, e-mail frances.field@alaska.gov, or visit archives.state.ak.us/arc/.



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