by Diane Newman
On March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln stated in his First Inaugural Address:
The mystic chords of memory, stretch . . . from every . . . living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land . . . .
October is American Archives Month, a time to celebrate treasured collections of enduring value. A spotlight shines on letters, manuscripts, books, and keepsakes carefully preserved by America’s archivists. Each archive tells a tale of times gone by. Like an archaeologist excavating artifacts or a detective examining evidence, an archivist provides access to significant factual information. Studying archival material provides a first-hand look at original works. An archive may contain authentic letters, journals, diaries, manuscripts, photographs, recordings, and so on. Not only words and images, but the type of paper and ink, or whether the recording was saved on VHS or optical disc, is revelatory. Unlike a person recalling what it was like looking back at a time and place, an archive’s holdings are the real thing.
For example, consider Evans Library’s Special Collection featuring a great American inventor, Edwin A. Link. As a boy, Ed Link was passionate about flying. This led to his famous invention of the Link Trainer, used to train pilots during World War II. As time passed, Link became passionate about exploring beneath the ocean. This led to engineering submersibles to travel under the sea. Letters, awards, publications, maps, and photographs in the Link Collection provide grist for the mill to study this great American inventor.
Only when libraries care to conserve Americans’ heritage can the mystic chords of memory echo for generations to hear.