Local History Department – Northern Beaches Library

Never again will I walk into a library and just see books, I will now see multiple displays of local and community histories that shape and give character to an area.
Throughout the semester I have worked with the local history department within the Northern Beaches Library. Specifically, I have worked with Manly Library, Dee Why Library and Mona Vale library. This experience has opened by eyes to the rich history that this organisation has collected over the years. These local history department’s collect and store histories and collections that community members and local organisations donate. The local history collections within the three libraries, cover many aspects of life on the Northern Beaches, including indigenous and social history, the built and natural environment and many contemporary and current issues. The library preserves and archives these histories and allows them to be accessible to the public in a variety of ways. Overall, I spent two days at Mona Vale Library, two at Manly Library and four days at Dee Why Library. Through this experience I was able to understand and see how the local history department worked and the work they do for the community. Their knowledge of the history of the Northern Beaches was incredibly extensive and it was very useful to see the work of a historian beyond the classroom.
My first meeting with the organisation developed and created a basis for my major project. During this meeting I met with the local historians from Manly and Dee Why and they discussed with me their future goals and aspirations for the department. They revealed that their aim was to eventually publicise some information about all their collections on their website so that the public knows what is to offer. Between the libraries there are hundreds of collections that need to be sorted and categorised. For my major project I suggested that I could start this process. As I am unable to change or add to their website as it is a government site I suggested that I create a document and scaffold that can be used to compile the information needed to go on the website.
My first task was creating the document and scaffold. I decided to use excel as this was an easy way to track the collections and create it in table form. This is a document that can also be easily added too as well. Unfortunately, as I didn’t have an endless amount of time I was unable to get through all off the collections, but it was known that the volunteers would continue with my project after I had finished my own volunteer hours. For this reason, I made it very user friendly and I also converted the table to a word document as well, as I understand that not all people prefer to use excel.
During my time at the libraries I went through 17 collections. Some collections consisted of only one box while others consisted of as many as 13 boxes and took me a whole day to sort through. Some collections already had written descriptions of the contents, while others didn’t, and I compiled these lists as part of my work there. Eventually once all collections have been recorded on the document and placed on the website it will be very beneficial for the public. They will now know which collection is at which library and having this information will make it much easier for the local historians. Having started the process will also make it easier for the regular volunteers to continue on with the archiving. During my time there I had spoken to some regular volunteers and revealed what I was doing with the collections and they appeared to very optimistic about the project and were delighted to continue on with my work. What I didn’t expect to find when going through the collections was some of my own family history. Seeing my family members names within a local collection opened my eyes to the connection and history I have with my local area. It was amazing to sort through a history completely unknown to me and find a sense of belonging with this history.
Overall, I found the experience to be incredibly valuable as I felt a true connection to my local history and local area. I was able to see how the act of preserving and collecting can became one’s lifework and achievement. The amazing’s histories that have been donated should be accessible to the public and I felt fortunate to be able to help with this process.
Website:
https://www.northernbeaches.nsw.gov.au/library/local-and-family-history/local-history

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