College strives to preserve heritage

Posted: Monday, September 18, 2000

The Kenai Peninsula has a fascinating history, but much of the evidence is hidden in piles of stuff owners may consider junk.

Kenai Peninsula College wants to change that perception and provide a safe and accessible place to archive records of Alaska life and peninsula events.

"We have such a diverse history here," said history professor Cathy Pearce. "We have so much material in the area, but it is so scattered. Something needs to be done."

Pearce has training in grass-roots historical projects. She came to the college five years ago and began working, along with anthropology professor Alan Boraas, on the history archive idea about two years ago. Last year, she brought the college's librarian, Sandy Hershberger, into the project.

They plan to use the college as a place where the public can study a variety of source documents about the peninsula and its people.

College students already are using such materials for anthropology and history classes dealing with the past and present.

Part of Pearce's job is working as a liaison between the college and area historical societies. The archive is a way to help the societies preserve and publicize their materials, which can retain a sponsoring society's name.

The Soldotna Historical Society has provided the first materials: tapes and transcriptions of interviews homesteaders Marge Mullen and Katherine Parker conducted in the 1990s with settlers of the Soldotna area. So far, 13 interviews have been transcribed, and printed copies have been put on the library shelves for patrons to check out.

The little red books in the Alaska section are the seeds of the future archive.

"It is small now, but we are hoping it will grow," Hershberger said.

New technology is helping to make the project feasible. It is easier than ever to copy and distribute information.

Pearce warned that originals are vulnerable and copying protects against accidental loss.

"If it disappears, it's gone," she said. "We've already lost so much of our history."

The library now is able to scan pages into its computer system. Hershberger has done much of the college's in-house archive on the history of the campus, which consists of brochures, programs, schedules and clippings from newspapers and magazines. She hopes to post that on the World Wide Web.

"The reason we don't have it up and running right now is the files are too large to put on the University of Alaska server," Hershberger said. "It is humongous."

Soon, the computer capacity will catch up, and the college will finish putting that project online, she said.

She and Pearce eventually want to put selections from the new peninsula history archive online, too, if the owners of the materials give permission.

The archive fits perfectly with the mission of the college and its role as a resource for the community, Pearce said.

Hershberger stressed the accessibility, noting the library is open to the general public, and KPC library cards are free.

"I don't want people to think that just because they aren't a student they can't come in here and check things out," she said.

Right now, she and Pearce are encouraging people to contribute materials for the history collection.

"We are dreaming really big," Pearce said.

They are seeking photographs, journals, letters and audio or video tapes that relate to the area. The items need not be originals, and college staff can assist with making copies free of cost for the archive.

Of particular interest are materials that could help researchers. These include information and stories relating to Native cultures, the Russian period, fur farming, agriculture, fisheries and hunting, Pearce said.

Anyone with items to donate should come by the college library, call the librarians at 262-0385 or call Pearce at 262-0375.

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