Archives in Appalachia 2020 Survey,  Archives In Appalachia Survey,  Articles

An Introduction to the Archives in Appalachia 2020 Survey

By Gene Hyde

This article appeared in the Volume 2, Issue 1 Spring/Summer 2020 issue of the Appalachian CuratorClick here to view a PDF of the full issue.


This issue of the Appalachian Curator includes the first round of results in our efforts to revisit and update the Appalachian Consortium’s 1985 survey, Archives in Appalachia: A Directory, which remains the only attempt to comprehensively document archival repositories in the region (thanks to our colleagues at Appalachian State University for digitizing the original 1985 survey). During the discussions leading up to the formation of the Special Collections Committee in ASA, the need to update the 1985 survey was identified as an important focus for the Special Collections Committee. We’re pleased to present the first results of this survey, and like the original survey, which presented the data state-by-state, we have started with Georgia, the first state documented in the 1985 survey.

Cover of 1985 Archives in Appalachia: A Directory
Cover of 1985 Archives in Appalachia: A Directory

The results are incomplete for reasons discussed below in the methodology section below, and at the recommendation of the Special Collections Committee, we decided to publish our initial results along with a call for crowd sourcing additional information about the collections identified in the 2020 survey, as well helping us identify repositories we might have missed. This is very much a work in progress, and we’re seeking your help in completing it.

Historical background: the 1985 Archives in Appalachia: A Directory

In the early 1980s, the Appalachian Consortium established a Regional Collections Committee that included archivists and librarians from across Appalachia. This committee received a National Historical Publications and Records Commission  $25,000 grant to fund, among other things, a survey of all institutions in Southern Appalachia that might have historical records, with the goal of publishing a directory of these repositories. Data was gathered in a traditional, pre Web method: surveys were mailed to repositories. In June 1984 the survey was mailed to 947 institutions. 352 agencies responded via mail to the survey, and another 366 agencies were contacted by telephone. From these responses the survey documented over 188 historical records repositories in 195 mountain and foothill counties in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. The final product, Archives in Appalachia: A Directory, was published in 1985. The results brought much to light: 122 of the 181 repositories identified were not previously listed in any published directories, union catalogs, or databases. Still, there were omissions. For instance, the Southern Highlands Research Center at UNC Asheville (now Special Collections at UNC Asheville), which was founded in 1977, did not respond to the survey and, consequently, was not included.


The 1985 survey used a comprehensive questionnaire intended to survey the scope, condition, staffing, and training of collections and personnel in repositories throughout Southern Appalachia. The questionnaire gathered a range of data including:

  • what kinds of materials were held in each collection (manuscripts, oral histories, audio/visual materials, photographs, institutional archives, newspapers, maps, books, pamphlets, etc.),
  • what subjects and geographical areas were covered,
  • what date range was covered,
  • how large the collection was,
  • what type of organization was the repository associated with (public library, college library, museum, church, etc.),
  • how materials were organized and described,
  • how large was the staff,
  • what kind of training did the staff have,
  • how was the repository funded,
  • what kind of services were offered,
  • what type of climate control and preservation measures did they have,
  • what type of equipment they had,
  • and other questions relevant to holdings, services, and staffing.

2020 Methodology

For the 2020 survey, we have used this basic model and asked many of the same questions, adding, of course, questions about web presence and email contact. The 2020 survey was started during the COVID-19 pandemic, and response rates were clearly affected by repository closures. Please see the 2020 Georgia survey results article for more information.

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