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John Thompson

Elizabethton Bureau Chief
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State helps preserve history in Elizabethton with grant

June 26th, 2014 8:52 pm by John Thompson

State helps preserve history in Elizabethton with grant

Joe Penza and Tre Hargett

ELIZABETHTON — The Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library received a visit from Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett on Thursday morning. Hargett was in town to celebrate a recent grant from the state for archive preservation.

The Elizabethton Library received a $2,400 grant from Hargett’s office to be used for the purchase of a steel five-drawer map cabinet and a large number of archival-qualify boxes to store old scrapbooks.

The map cabinet will be used to store the blueprints and drawings from the old Bemberg rayon plant. The drawings depict nearly every piece of machinery in the old plant and are a valuable tool for industrial historians.

At the time the factory went out of business, all of the drawings were being stored in large cardboard tubes. They were rescued from the old factory, but the drawings have remained in the tubes for several more decades before they were given to the library archives.

Among the problems of storing the documents in tubes is that the paper curled up to conform to the space of the tube. With numerous documents stored in each tube, it was nearly impossible to do research. Finding one document in all the tubes was confusing and took a lot of space.

Joe Penza is the archivist for the city of Elizabethton and the library. He recognized the need for better storage of the Bemberg documents and for storing the scrapbooks of the Business and Professional Women’s Club, a key organization in the founding of the library. Numerous other scrapbooks of Elizabethton’s professional and civic organizations are also in the holdings.

To preserve the Bemberg documents and the old scrapbooks, Penza submitted a grant request to the office of the Tennessee secretary of state, which oversees the State and National Archival Partnership in the state.

Penza said he asked for a grant of about $1,200 in order to purchase archival-quality storage boxes for the scrapbooks and archival quality tubes to replace the old cardboard tubes that have held the Bemberg drawings for so many years.

Penza said he was soon contacted by Tennessee Museum Curator Myers Brown, who told him tubes were not the approved way of storing archives. Penza agreed, but said that was all that could be afforded under the grant. Brown then recommended the grant be doubled in order to afford the map storage cabinet.

Hargett said he was unaware the amount of the grant had been increased from what Penza had originally requested, but seemed please to find out about the change.

“We are not there to horde money; our goal is to help preserve local archives,” Hargett said of the library specialists in his office. “We saw a need and a way to meet that need.”

Hargett praised the work of Penza, who maintains the archives of the library and the records at City Hall. Elizabethton Library Director Melodi Goff said Penza’s work was even more remarkable because he is only a part-time employee, getting 28 hours a week. She said only eight hours of that are devoted to archive work and the remaining 20 hours of Penza’s work week require him to work as a library assistant.

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