By Emily Reed
Carey Heatherly has a penchant for uncovering things about the past, something he often does in his role as the UM archivist and special collections librarian.
“I love being able to snoop through old documents and uncover interesting tidbits of information,” Heatherly said. “Reading old newspapers is one of my absolute favorite activities.”
Heatherly oversees the UM Archives, many of which contain documents of information stretching back to the first days of the University in the 1890s.
Since November 2007, Heatherly has been working at efforts to preserve and protect historical documents for future generations to use and reference.
“For our older materials, the work [preserving] involves trying to organize documents and photographs in archival-friendly folders and boxes while making them discoverable and accessible to researchers,” Heatherly said. Preserving documents requires storage in acid-inhibiting folders and boxes, removal of metal fasteners and notation on a finding aid. “This helps in locating folders to pull for research, and to ensure they are returned,” Heatherly explained. Technology and digitization facilitate accessibility to and sharing of fragile physical materials. “It is not uncommon to show someone a rare, fragile item but then have them use a digital copy of it for their actual research,” Heatherly said. “Technology has also made the supplies we use better and more affordable.”
Now many documents can be saved as PDFs, stored electronically and printed out if people need, but Heatherly notes that the number of digital-born items can sometimes be overwhelming.
“Most people are surprised to know that we are actively collecting things from today. A program from a lecture or an event today is an archive-worthy piece tomorrow. Another surprising job responsibility involves monitoring temperature, humidity and light levels. An unstable environment greatly increases the rate of decline of papers and photographs.”
Some of the interesting information Heatherly has come across throughout the years includes material found while he was doing research for a book he co-authored titled “Montevallo.” Over a period of time, he and Dr. Clark Hultquist stumbled across several newspaper articles as well as an Alabama State Supreme Court case about a 1901 dispute over horses that led to a gunfight on Main Street. “I really like the story because it took years of snooping and luck to piece the story together,” Heatherly said.
Heatherly’s favorite document includes a letter from the 1920s from Alabama Game Supervisor I.T. Quinn to Alabama College Business Manager Edward Houston Wills. In the letter, Quinn is chiding administrators for trapping squirrels out of season and relocating them to the UM campus.
With so much history at UM, Heatherly said many archives are utilized frequently by students who are working on class projects or who have chosen a local history topic for their paper or digital exhibit.
“Obviously, students and other campus constituents are our main researchers, but we often work with local officials, other archives around Alabama and the southeast, and alumni and relatives of alumni (as far away as Japan). We have also provided materials to academic researchers at other institutions.”
“The University of Montevallo has such a rich and storied past,” Heatherly said. “The early materials point to the school in rural Alabama educating women to join the American workforce. That is a story worth telling through course catalogs, yearbooks, newspapers and photographs. Without those things, I think the story is not as impactful.”
Interested in learning more about the UM archives? Visit libguides.montevallo.edu.