Preserving Library’s Past For the Future

Posted on 22 December 2010

By Kathryn G. Menu

Sag Harbor’s John Jermain Memorial Library has received a grant for almost $6,000 to aid its efforts towards historic preservation. This comes as the library embarks on an expansion that will allow the 100-year-old institution to expand its archives for researchers and residents alike.

During the John Jermain Memorial Library (JJML) Board of Trustees meeting on December 15, JJML director Catherine Creedon announced that history librarian Jessica Frankel was awarded a Preservation Assistance Grant for Smaller Institutions by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The organization funds small to mid-level institutions, such as libraries, museums, historical societies, archival repositories, municipal records offices and cultural organizations, as well as colleges and universities.

The foundation grant was specifically geared towards institutions and organizations looking to enhance the preservation of their humanities collections. The NEH provides grants up to $6,000 through the program and in her application, Frankel secured the full $5,9777 she requested.

“It is worth noting that in an age of reduced governmental funding for the humanities, the John Jermain project and local history collection has attracted this level of federal support,” said Creedon to the board last Wednesday.

The grant will enable the library to hire Rolf Kat, the director of planning and development at the Conservation Center for Arts and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia.

According to Creedon, the grant Frankel secured will bring Kat to JJML for a study on the library’s current historical collection. It includes photography, works once owned by William Wallace Tooker, a collection of Bibles, historical records from the village, county and state, material on the whaling industry, personal history and artifacts from some of Sag Harbor’s celebrated families, as well as some items yet to be specifically identified, like a child size cap from the Civil War.

“Artifacts like that are so wonderful because they allow us to imagine,” said Creedon. “We don’t have documentation about why this is in our collection, so we begin to ask ourselves, was this a young child piper? Was it passed from generation to generation? How did it wind up here?”

Creedon said the expansion will include a dedicated room for historic artifacts that encompasses the kinds of temperature, humidity and light controls the current collection lacks.

“Going forward, one of the things I want to do is craft a mission statement about what the nature of what our collection is all about,” she said, noting the library might ultimately decide focusing on village history, rather than state and county records is its priority.

“Even in out new space, we will have a finite amount of room,” she said.
Creedon said she would like to see JJML expand its holdings of whaling related materials, as well as oral histories of current residents with stories about Sag Harbor’s culture and history, as well as relics pertinent to village history.

“I am also interested in collecting materials to the history we are making now,” said Creedon. “A lot of our history is wrapped up in whaling or the Custom House, but what we don’t think about is the history we are making now. We have this amazing sustainable food movement taking place on the East End. Our vineyards are accomplishing so much, Mecox Bay Dairy is looking at traditional ways of life. That reinvention of classical material is ripe for our archive.”

Creedon would also like to document the wave of immigrants, both past and present, that have descended on the East End. For Sag Harbor, she noted, immigration has been a constant and continues today.
“What is fascinating is 100 years from now people will want to know what was the culture of Sag Harbor in 2010,” said Creedon. “And we will be able to show them.”

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