Most recently, I received my Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science, along with a Graduate Certificate in Archives and Special Collections, from University of Southern Mississippi. As part of the certificate program, I spent the summer of 2014 in their British Studies Program, touring libraries, archives and museums in and around London and Edinburgh. My new AmeriCorps member position, at Eastern Regional Coal Archives, dovetails perfectly with this newly acquired education. My scholastic experience is being practically applied in the field, creating valuable hands-on opportunities.
I chose to enlist a second, nonconsecutive term of service with AmeriCorps because I wanted to continue an institutional relationship that had begun in the summer of 2015. To elaborate, my graduate certificate program required an informational repository internship, which allowed me to work with Eastern Regional Coal Archives last summer. To be honest, I knew I wanted to continue assisting ERCA when I finished my degree, but didn’t know how to approach the issue, since I knew they operated on a tight budget. Toward the end of my collegiate program, while pondering the idea of re-enlisting with AmeriCorps, I had the exciting realization that ERCA might be able to become a host site for me. After several phone calls and meetings, in a relative blink of time, the process was underway. Through collaboration with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia and National Coal Heritage Area, this dream with ERCA became a reality.
Since beginning my year, it has been an exciting time for all of us at the archives. In part, because this is the first time that an AmeriCorps member has been stationed here. Therefore, we are all learning as we go. We are making and taking our projects one day at a time, after having created short and long term goals for the year. A strong personal reason for wanting to be at Eastern Regional Coal Archives is to be immersed in the history of my home. Volunteering with the archives allows for research and projects that connect me to the past, and occasionally, to my hometown of Welch, in McDowell County.
Eastern Regional Coal Archives is a repository of coal-related history. The scope of this archives focuses on the Pocahontas Coalfields, which is mostly under southern West Virginia and a bit into southwestern Virginia. Mining company records, correspondence, industrial artifacts, railroad memorabilia, photographs, architectural materials, et cetera consist of the core of the archives. ERCA was founded in 1983, during the centennial celebration which marked the opening of the Pocahontas coalfields, a main seed collection being donated by the Pocahontas Operators Association. The archives is located on the second floor of Craft Memorial Library in historic downtown Bluefield, WV.
Seventeen Preserve WV AmeriCorps members have been deployed across the state to provide direct services in the areas of historic preservation and heritage tourism. A statewide service initiative, the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program places service members at historic non-profit sites or local government agencies for a one-year period where they complete specific projects aimed at improving historic resources and managing volunteers for special events. The end goal of these projects is community revitalization, with a focus on long-term historic preservation and increased use of historic properties and museum collections. “AmeriCorps member projects have a heritage tourism and community development focus. The main purpose of these projects is to increase visitation at historic sites, encourage visitors to spend more money in our communities, and re-develop these properties for new uses. The projects meet the long-term mission of the alliance, which is to preserve the Mountain State’s cultural heritage for future generations,” explained Danielle LaPresta, the program director for Preserve WV AmeriCorps and executive director for the alliance.
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