Oklahoma Historical Society Preservation

Tour of the Oklahoma Historical Society Archive Preservation, 8-18-16

Chad Williams, Executive Director of Research

Chad Williams agreed to give our board a tour to see how donated historical collections are handled. Those attending were absolutely amazed at the detail, professionalism, complexity, and care involved. Some of what we learned is below.

In a library-like area, the public can come in to research online and view items from processed collections. Note the photo of some of the many free resources that individuals would have to purchase.

Once collections are donated, they are frozen in a commercial freezer, taken out for a day, and then frozen again for one more day to kill microscopic organisms that live in books, paper, etc. 

Then the collection is put in chronological order and separated by type of donation, e.g., books, records, paper, film, tapes, etc. Items are put in acid-free files and boxes. Certain items go to different areas, and types of items require different handling. Note in one photo, a worker wears white gloves as he looks at a book.

Scrapbooks, depending upon many factors, are photographed to preserve integrity, and if possible are taken apart and the contents go to their processing room. If a scrapbook is in fragile condition, it may be photographed and receive acid-free paper between each page. Professionalism and expertise determine the result.

Attendees were Bob Sonnenfeld, Terry Vanlandingham, Janna Winters, and Bev Woodrome.

A photo of a book is included. A book written by one of our past presidents would reside there. Was that Day Fezler, past president in 1926? (Will have to look at that book again.)

Downstairs in the impressive cold storage vault are some truly precious materials. For example, the masterfully hand-penned historic documents of the Oklahoma tribes from about 1868 up to the Dawes Act, when the government dismantled the tribes, are exquisite. Although written with hand-dipped ink, they are well-preserved partly due to the way paper was made—acid-free or almost acid-free. In one photo is an open acid-free box with documents from 1902. Read the fine print.

One room has newspapers. Every newspaper—weekly or daily—comes in to the OHC to be scanned eventually. The Oklahoman has donated its early papers. A large scanner is used for newspapers.

In the left of one photo, the camera mounted on an upright stick is used to photograph scrapbooks or other fragile items by pages’ being turned one at a time. To the right in that photo is a variety of audio equipment. The historical society has to be able to preserve digitally everything that comes in. 

Preservation may mean one of the skilled historians there has to create his own circuit boards or machines, one of which is in another photo. Chad Williams is holding an early dictation tape. Finding a machine or the parts of one is challenging, hence, making one’s own.

Williams talks to Janna Winters about the blue curtained area, in which historical interviews can be captured. In another photo, the black foam-lined box is a portable audio booth so interviews can be done on the road.

Old records or recording cylinders of all kinds are precious; therefore, they await their turn to be digitized.

In the last photo with Williams are the people who showed up. Janna Winters, Chad Williams, Bob Sonnenfeld, Bev Woodrome, and Terry Vanlandingham.

Having our club’s documents preserved is a gift to Oklahoma history. Eventually, everything that can be digitized will be online available to researchers and our members’ families.

We may have forgotten some information but will add it in the future.