Former historian reduced chaos of files

In the content of The Leader-Herald’s article April 14, “Historian eyes past practices,” I was perplexed to read, “county history files are in a state of chaos.”

Really? When did that happen? While such statements produce good theater before a committee, they also reveal a paucity of understanding that sometimes simplistic, homegrown archival information storage and retrieval systems do function effectively. The system certainly worked acceptably for me and for others who consulted it in the past. More importantly, this “chaos” inference demeans the efforts of former county Historian William Loveday, who created his workable filing system out of real, total chaos.

Mr. Loveday’s files were in anything but “a state of chaos” when I left office. As a former college librarian of 37 years’ experience, currently serving as curator of Fulton-Montgomery Community College’s Evans Library’s Kenneth R. Dorn Regional History Collection, my bibliographic training would have precluded allowing any system in “chaos” to continue without taking remedial action. Mr. Loveday, a retired naval officer, deserves more respect: From many boxes of unsorted documents, he created both the files (more than 1,000 entries) and an effective subject index, with no prior training.

Don’t take my word. When first in office, I invited Susan D’Entremont, Capital District Library Council archivist and Local Grants Records Management Improvement Fund grants consultant, to evaluate the collection and present a report as a basis for my possibly applying for LGRMIF grants. D’Entremont concluded Mr. Loveday’s document storage and retrieval system was practical, if not sophisticated: other than seeking funding to replace Mr. Loveday’s manila folders with acid-free ones, she recommended few changes short of cost-prohibitive digitization. She also respected Mr. Loveday’s simple but functional 3-by-5 card subject index, keyed numerically to each file, maybe because it worked.

Regarding the statement the newspapers (which, incidentally, I paid the subscription on for six years) are stored in “banker boxes” (whatever that means) and are “unnecessary to collect or keep,” they were stored in archival boxes probably purchased by Mr. Loveday. There was plenty of shelving available, and they were kept as a service to an important county department whose head wished to have The Leader-Herald in-house to facilitate more rapid answering of outside inquiries regarding births, marriages and deaths. I believe that’s called providing services.

Mr. Loveday and his tireless efforts at eliminating rather than creating chaos deserve more respect.

PETER BETZ

Fort Johnson