Local History Pathfinder Guides and How To Use Them
The Polk Cooperative History Project (PCHP) has compiled information on four types of local history resources held by Polk County’s participating libraries and museums. A finding aid has been developed for each of these resources, both in written and in electronic formats. Space constraints have made it necessary to abbreviate some of the information in this Pathfinder.
The resources compiled are:
- Bibliography. A subject list of published sources, including periodicals and annual publications.
- Newspapers. A list of available Polk County newspaper runs in various institutions.
- Union List of Local History Pamphlet File Headings. A list of standardized file headings for ephemeral materials and clippings gathered in pamphlet files, with holding agencies. The list is cross-referenced to archival, manuscript and scrapbook collection by subject. There is a separate index of surname headings for biographical and genealogical files.
- Archival holdings. A compilation of existing processed and unprocessed archive, manuscript, and scrapbook collections, annotated, with content summaries and holding institutions.
This section will serve as an introduction to these resources. Subsequent sections of the Pathfinder will then deal with each in greater detail.
Systematic shelf searches and searches of library cataloging databases identified over 250 book and serial title sources covering many aspects, both broad and specific, of Polk County history. These are listed in Section IV of this Pathfinder. Some titles are devoted entirely to local history while others are broader in scope but include substantial references to local history. In addition to books and serial publications, there are booklets and self-published volumes that have been bound for the shelf, government documents, and publications such as directories and school annuals. A basic “core” bibliography, organized both in broad and specific topic categories, is contained in this Pathfinder without full annotations. An expanded and annotated version eventually will be found on the PCHP website.
A separate list of available holdings of runs of county newspapers is also provided, with information about holding institutions and whether the holdings are original or are microfilmed copies. Newspapers constitute the single most important source of local history information. Section V of the Pathfinder lists each county newspaper by place of publication, gives basic bibliographic information, and provides a list of institutions holding a run of issues. Because of the significance of newspapers, their holding agencies have been expanded beyond Polk County to include Oregon’s major research libraries.
The Local History Pamphlet Files
Prior to this Project, the libraries of Polk County all had “pamphlet” files containing news clippings, journal articles, and miscellaneous ephemera (flyers, brochures, playbills, invitations, directories, and other items that were originally created for short term use). The Polk County Genealogical Society, the Polk County Museum Association, and the Polk County Historical Society (now merged as the Polk County Historical Society) had also been assiduously gathering similar material for decades. During the PCHP project all of these files were reviewed, integrated and, when necessary, reorganized and refiled using PCHP’s newly developed subject heading system. Files from institution to institution are now consistent and the user needs to learn only one system to access local history. The new system was developed using data fields with an internal logic that will encourage the maintenance of interagency consistency over time. It is to these files that researchers will probably turn when they have exhausted books and other published material in their local history search.
Users of the PCHP file system will soon become familiar with the simple hierarchy of the system. A geographical location is used with a set of major subject headings and subheadings that remain consistent among geographic locations and that encourage clustering of related topics within the filing system. Used as a database, the system facilitates retrieval of information by keeping similar levels of information together in data fields. Using the fairly straightforward logic of the system will greatly reduce or eliminate the need for hit or miss guessing as to how a particular topic may have been filed, even as new files are added. Both a Union List of file headings and a system of internal file cross-referencing can also lead the researcher to related material in other files and in other institutions. Most important, all file listings contain three letter institutional abbreviations designating the participating agencies where the actual subject materials will be found.
Files of biographical and genealogical information about hundreds of individuals and families who have lived in Polk County also have been included in the pamphlet file system, listed consistently under “Polk County – Biography – – “. Although these files are a part of the pamphlet file heading system, because of the large number of names, it was necessary to create a separate list, alphabetized by surname, with the abbreviation for holding institution(s) after each name. The biographical files are normally located within the main Pamphlet Files in each agency, with one exception. At the Polk County Historical Society the immense size of the biographical/genealogical collection has made it necessary to locate these files separately.
Section VI of this Pathfinder contains lists of geographical locations and subject headings included in the files, but to find the location of specific subject files, it is necessary to visit one of the participating agencies and ask to use the PCHP Union List, or to look on the PCHP website, where a researcher can choose to use database search functions or to view the entire Union List. A list of actual biographical files is included in Section VI of this Pathfinder.
The archive, manuscript, and scrapbook collections at the agencies constitute an additional rich resource for the serious researcher. These collections have been surveyed as part of the current Project, and are presented in Section VII of this Pathfinder, with summaries of content. But it is important to note that most of these materials have not yet been indexed or inventoried in detail by their holding institutions, and within them will often be found far more than can be listed in their summaries. These collections should be used only after researchers have come to the point in their searches where they have exhausted printed and pamphlet file materials.
The researcher also needs to be aware that not all archival, manuscript, and scrapbook collections identified by the Project have been surveyed. If collections could not readily be made accessible to the public, they were not usually surveyed. There were several reasons for determining that collections must remain inaccessible. Some were physically degraded or dangerous for researchers to handle without further conservation. Several collections were so large and in such disarray that the Project could not impose enough order through surveying to make them accessible. Finally, the ownership of some collections housed in participating agencies was not settled and this prevented accessibility. The Project’s decision not to survey was usually not a judgment concerning the collection’s historic significance. Some unsurveyed collections are potentially much more valuable to researchers than some surveyed ones, but circumstances dictated that they must await a future edition of this Pathfinder for inclusion.