This page contains a Flash digital edition of a book.
“We’re often the beginning, not the end, for

many researchers,” says Kim May, the research center manager. “But practically all southern decorative arts publications these days have involved a visit here by their authors, or they’ve used images we own.”

Digitizing the Collection For the most part, the library and research cen- ter require a personal visit to review their hold- ings. Books and materials cannot be checked out like a public library. The research staff, including associates Martha Rowe and Zara Phillips, can handle small research inquiries that come in by e-mail or phone. As time and budgets have allowed, the hold-

ings are becoming digital, too. A number of historical photos, the library’s catalog, and the craftsmen database of over 83,000 artisans can be searched online so users can determine whether an in-person visit is needed. Go to www.mesda. org and click on the “Research” heading if you’d like to do your own inquiry. Fees for research by staff are also outlined on the website. Martha Rowe, a 35-year veteran of the research

center, remembers the early days when the cen- ter was a small room across the hall from Frank Horton’s office. Like many of the early research- ers, she worked four hours a day culling data

from microfilm that had been gathered from state archives, the Mormon library, Readex, and other sources. “Frank would only let us read film for four hours,” she recalls, “because he believed longer spells were hard on our eyes. We also took MESDA guide training, not because we would conduct tours but to help us know what we were looking for. We were especially inter- ested in wills, estate records, and inventories,” which would help establish the provenance of southern decorative objects. “Even though we had to have a custom pro-

gram created for our specific needs in the begin- ning,” Martha says, “it became much easier for us when computers came along. With the ability to sort and retrieve, we could find things so much quicker.” Converting the manually typed craftsmen cards, which were often typed on both sides, was done in partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The cards were transported to Chapel Hill in a truck. A machine that could scan 225 cards each min- ute processed a total of 250,000 cards. The research center plans to make more infor-

mation available in the future. “The next project on our list is that collection of 20,000 object photographs,” Kim notes. Funding for that proj- ect is being sought through private foundations or a federal agency such as the NEH. As each portion of the collection is created

in a digital copy, the staff becomes a bit more relieved. “A fire, though it has never happened, is always a worry,” June says. “Now we know those cards are not our only record, even as they have become artifacts in their own right.” m

Bill Cissna is a freelance writer and playwright. He lives in Kernersville, North Carolina.

The lives of over 80,000 southern artisans and craftsmen are documented on index cards cataloged in the research center.

Summer/Fall 2011

13 13

Library and Research Center by the Numbers

20,000 Volumes held in the


83,000 Artisans and

craftspeople identified working before 1860 in 127 different trades from seven southern states

20,000 Objects photographed

(furniture, paintings, ceramics, metalwork, and more)

3,500 Rolls of microfilm

stored in cabinets (some of them yet to be read and studied)

1,750 Callers and visitors

served annually by both facilities

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