An Outreach Visit to Tattnall County Archives Was Enjoyed By All

Sheila McAlister, director of the Digital Library of Georgia, and Pharris Johnson, chair of the Tatnall County Archives’ Board of Trustees.

Five years ago, a group of us reorganized Tattnall County Archives and opened it to the public. During that time, we have focused on documents that are mostly governmental in nature, but as those get in order, we have slowly begun to fill other community wishes, including the need to archive photos of vanished and vanishing people, places, structures, townscapes, and landscapes.

About all I know of photography is whether a picture is color or black-and-white. Fortunately, our board chair has a motto that has saved me many times: when you don’t know, ask a pro.

A series of inquiries brought us to Sheila McAlister, the director of the Digital Library of Georgia. But she was headquartered in Athens, and we were four hours southeast, in Reidsville. No problem, she said. She’d drive down. Since part of her job was outreach, she wouldn’t charge us. Our biggest question proved how to feed her since she was vegan! Going out to the barbecue joint was not an option.

Sheila drove down on a sunny March day. Entire fields were the blood-red of sheep sorrel with lavender washes of toadflax bloom. Each tree in the bottomlands was a different shade of green. Dogwoods were wearing their wedding veils.

For three hours we sat with Sheila, firing questions at her and scribbling pages of notes. From the most basic question to the most complicated, Sheila patiently advised us on how to proceed. She praised us for wanting to plan ahead, not just jumping into the middle of a big project without first laying the groundwork. She didn’t mind that she had to start at the beginning. Soon we were deep into terms like “resolution” and “server space” and “metadata.” Sheila’s answers were comprehensive, and she always made sure to give us choices.

For lunch, we pulled out a Mediterranean platter of hummus, pita, olives and lots of sliced vegetables, perfect for Sheila.

Being a small, rural, volunteer-run repository, our resources in terms of finances and skills are limited. We do a good job with what we have, but sometimes we need a pro, and when we needed Sheila, she didn’t hesitate. She was incredibly generous with her knowledge and her time. And the minute she arrived back to her desk at the Digital Library of Georgia, she emailed us with links to tutorials, contacts at other repositories, and examples of documents.

Since we reorganized the Tattnall Archives, we have received the most surprising and wonderful assistance from all directions. This keeps us on our path and inspires us to make our repository into a valued community resource. Without Sheila helping us to set up a digital photo archive, we’d still be lost in the dark.

– Janisse Ray, Director, Tatnall County Archives

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Community Engagement with Laurens County Teacher’s Monthly Reports

The Laurens County Library has enjoyed a new level of community engagement thanks to the Digital Library of Georgia’s subgranting program. We have received invitations to speak outside of the library about our digitization project, and community members are contributing their personal photos and stories to the library’s collection. Furthermore, the excitement around our project has generated additional financial support and new community-based partnerships, both of which will allow the library to continue our digitization efforts.

Ms. Susie O’Neal holds teacher monthly reports from Mary Grove School, a school she attended as a child. These reports are from 1936, one year before Ms. O’Neal was born.

In the spring of 2018, the library received a $5000 subgrant to digitize a collection of teacher monthly reports from 57 of our county’s African American schools. Most of these records date from the 1930s. They share valuable information such as each teacher’s name and address, the names and ages of students, attendance rates, and the quality of the schoolhouse. All of this information is now available online and freely accessible to everyone. Such an increase in access to information is remarkable when one considers that these schools had previously received little recognition in our county’s published histories.

One of the highlights from the past year occurred when library staff was invited to attend the Old Schools Picnic, an annual gathering of alumni from the various African American schools of Laurens County. Not only were we able to promote the online records, but also to speak to over 400 people in attendance about the importance of their schools’ history to our larger community history. Attendees started to appreciate the importance of sharing their stories and experience about their own educational upbringing when they learned that their alma maters were the result of mergers of long-forgotten older church-based schools.

Ms. Beverly Brown, Director of the Oconee Regional Library System, attended the picnic and spoke with attendees. When asked about the community impact of the DLG subgrant, Ms. Brown states, “Our library patrons are very excited to have digital access to the African American school records, and by having these records digitized, we are helping to preserve the rich history of these schools. Thanks to the digitization subgrant, the Teacher’s Monthly Reports online collection reaffirms the history of these schools in our community memory, helping to safeguard the fuller history of Laurens County and our people.”

– Cristina Hernández Trotter, Head of Reference and The Heritage Center, Oconee Regional Library System

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