First in an Occasional Series: The Documentary Heritage Program in Western New York

The Documentary Heritage Program is a regional service, funded statewide by the New York State Archives and supported locally through the Western New York Library Resources Council. The program was initiated in three regions of the state in 1989 and today operates across the state. The mission of the program in our region is assisting organizations in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara and, Orleans Counties with the management of their historical records collections. The DHP clients are typically not-for-profit organizations such as museums, historical societies, libraries and educational institutions. However, we will assist pretty much any non-government organization that seeks help in establishing or managing their collections; for example, local private businesses, religious and community organizations and many others. Government organizations are referred to the Regional Advisory Officers of the Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund for help with their records programs (the subject of a future blog article!).

Heidi Bamford, Regional Archivist for Western New York since 1990 observes, “I have been in and seen almost every conceivable kind of setting for historical records: from a collection of sports records stored in a florist shop, to a cache of records found in old milk cartons, to attics, basements and everywhere between, each trip to a site is a new adventure and an opportunity to help uncover and retrieve part of our local heritage!”

The assistance provided to local organizations comes in various forms: there are workshops offered throughout the year by the DHP, as well as offered in partnership with other agencies. Past offerings have included the “Basics of Archives” workshop series (a multi-class intro to basic topics working with archives that is very popular, including Appraisal, Arrangement & Description, Preservation and, Outreach), courses introducing new and existing resources and technologies for archives (Past Perfect, Digital Photos, EAD, Metadata, Grants from New York State, and so on), courses on finding New York (and local) history on the Internet (Women’s History, African American History, Military History and Native American History), courses designed to help educators in schools and cultural organizations incorporate local history in the classroom and other timely topics.

“With the advent of the Common Core, everyone is in a panic to create new teaching activities that address the skill building goals identified in the Reading and Writing Standards. Using local collections helps get the students more engaged and interested in learning, which will enhance the success in implementing the new lessons. With collections now available in digital format, the question is no longer so much one of access, but of accessing the best and most useful items to meet your needs. Our goal is to continue to work with organizations, create the best avenues of access to their materials – that is, giving them a context that makes them more user-friendly – and help connect them to the classrooms that need these resources.”

In addition to workshop training, the DHP offers local organizations the opportunity to receive a site visit and accompanying report with recommendations. The Regional Archivist visit the site and based on conversations with staff and volunteers as well as examining existing conditions and practices, will offer advice on ways the organization can more successfully manage and promote their collections. The site visit reports have been effective tools for persuading administration of the need for change, as well as the foundational argument for grant awards.

The DHP also provides general assistance in the form of responding to email and telephone inquiries and, issuing a weekly electronic newsletter with information about what is happening locally as well as news on state and national opportunities for funding, promoting and training. The Regional Archivist is also often asked to present programs to membership of local and state organizations or to the general public. Finally, the DHP maintains an alliance with other local and regional organizations to help improve network and communications of the historical records community.

“The DHP is always looking for opportunities to advance the interests of local history and the people and places that preserve and promote it. We see the past as an integral part of the present, and hope to convey that idea to others in the community. Our heritage is a tremendous asset for building a better future as we are now seeing with the example of the resurgence of the Buffalo Canal District. But there are so many more opportunities out there and we want the keepers of these extraordinary collections to be ready when called upon!”

In fact, the need to make people in our region aware of the many records-related resources in the area is what has led to the creation of this regular, bi-weekly blog in WNYLRC Watch; each time featuring a different group in western New York that supports the preservation and promotion of local history. If you know of such a group and would like to see it become one of our featured articles, please contact us! And, if you would like more information about the Documentary Heritage Program in Western New York or in New York State, contact:

Heidi Bamford, DHP Regional Archivist,
4455 Genesee Street, Buffalo, NY 14225,
(716) 633-0705 ext 114,,

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