October 22, 2010

Archives Month in Full Swing

MHS librarians Anne McDonnell and Virginia
 Walton work to save Helena banking records, 1955
Who do we think we are, anyway? Well, we are archivists seeking to celebrate the work we do! October is Archives Month across the country, and this year the staff of the MHS Archives wanted to spotlight the long tradition of “history keepers” in Montana going all the way back to 1865 and the founding of the Montana Historical Society. A couple weeks ago on Oct. 7 we kicked off our celebration with a light-hearted program revealing the men and women of Montana who were critical to collecting and caring for the superb historical collections we now hold at the MHS archives and photo archives. Rich Aarstad, archivist and oral historian, began with a tale of the original “Beard of Directors,” reviewing the efforts of the Montana pioneers (and mostly bearded men) who founded and led the Historical Society through its first decades of existence. State Archivist Jodie Foley, then illuminated the audience on the “maternal branch” of the Society’s history as she celebrated the long line of female library professionals who began applying professional standards to the care of archival collections. The MHS archives came into its own during the “Age of Acquisition” in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as explained by Archivist Jeff Malcomson. The Montana Legislature in 1969 declared MHS the official state archives, while at the same time MHS administration hired professional historians, like Brian Cockhill and Lory Morrow, for the first time to work solely with the archives collections. Archives acquisitions quickly increased through the 1970s and 80s, right on through to the significant collections of today. Caitlan Maxwell, electronic records project archivist, concluded the presentation by describing the coming of the computer and its impact on the MHS Archives. She demonstrated the multiple ways computers are used to make the Archives collections accessible to the public and users around the world.  The MHS Archives and photo archives have come a long way, and we look forward to carrying on our mission into the future.