Happy Birthday, ALH! Celebrating Our 30th


Pronunciation: /ˈärˌkīv/ /ˈɑrˌkaɪv/

  1. A collection of historical documents or records providing information about a place, institution, or group of people.
  2. The place where historical documents or records are kept.

The Douglas Public Library District officially recognized the Local History Collection 30 years ago. Like many entering their 30s, we’re looking back with reflection and looking ahead with purpose. This month, Archives & Local History (ALH) is celebrating our own history with a series of posts about who we are and what we do, plus a new reading room display about the history of ALH and the role of archivists.

Today, Douglas County Libraries’ ALH department works hard to provide the community with access to a broad range of historical and research materials. But we’ve gone through a lot of changes along the way. So how did we get here? And what are we, anyway?

Local History: A History

In 1992, the Douglas County Historical Society was in the process of dissolution and the Society’s significant historical collections were in danger of becoming orphaned. Douglas County Libraries (DCL), then known as Douglas Public Library District, became the official steward for the materials, launching the Local History Collection (LHC) at the Castle Rock library (then located at 961 S. Plum Creek Pkwy.). These initial collections included photographs, oral histories, post office records, and family papers from Douglas County’s early residents, among other archival materials. Johanna Harden served as the library’s first archivist, and during her 22 years with the collection she focused on growing the archives. New donations from community members, the accumulation of reference books and supporting research material, and the adoption of collections management software broadened the LHC.

In 2002, the LHC evolved into the Douglas County History Research Center (DCHRC), and in 2003 Douglas Public Library District rebranded itself as Douglas County Libraries. That was the same year the Castle Rock library moved from Plum Creek to its current location on S. Wilcox Street, with expanded space dedicated to local history and a new climate-controlled archival storage vault. In 2012 the DCHRC launched a digital collections interface (i.e., website), providing remote access to digitized material for residents of Douglas County and beyond from any device with an internet connection. We use the same system today for online digital asset management: archives.dcl.org.

Harden retired in 2013, and in 2018 the next longest-tenured staff member, Shaun Boyd, moved on after 20 years of service. Together they helped position the DCHRC as a vital community partner by building close relationships with historical organizations across the region. We continue this legacy of collaboration through partnerships with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection, the Digital Public Library of America, and the Veterans History Project, to name a few.

The year 2018 brought many changes to the department, including another name change. Staff turnover coincided with a larger organizational restructure and a required technical upgrade of our website. It seemed like a good opportunity to refresh, redesign and rebrand. The DCHRC title was accurate but possibly sounded like it was a separate entity from DCL, and it didn’t highlight the unique content of our collection, which is primarily archives. So the DCHRC became DCL’s department of Archives & Local History, or ALH, without changing its core mission to collect, preserve and provide access to local history.

What About Today?

Today, ALH strives to provide quality research collections about Douglas County, Colorado, to the communities of Douglas County and beyond. We do that by collecting and documenting history as it happens, carefully preserving the historical materials in our care so that they will be available to future generations, and providing access to the collections by assisting researchers or through the work of organizing and describing the material via catalog records, indexes, digital surrogates, exhibitions, presentations, or published writing. Our collections revolve around Douglas County’s social, cultural and economic past (and present!). We include a representative variety of viewpoints and formats, including biographical files, newspapers and clippings, papers and manuscripts, maps, microfilm, oral histories, photographs, reference books, yearbooks, audiovisual materials, ephemera, and digital documents.

Anyone may access these materials! Customers and community members have used our collections to support scientific studies, write historical articles and books, help solve cold cases, research genealogy, and even create artwork. Some items are available online, but others have to be accessed at the Castle Rock branch of DCL. In addition to research assistance, we can provide offsite educational programming for schools and community groups (please schedule at least one month in advance).

Stay in Touch!

To learn more about what archivists do, tune in on April 14 for our next blog post: “A Day in the Life of an Archivist,” including FAQs (Fancy Archives Queries). And later this month, we’ll post some how-to guides for things like using databases and preserving your own historical materials.

If you would like to access archival materials, make a donation, or ask questions, contact us at (303) 688-7730, localhistory@dclibraries.org, or visit ALH at the Castle Rock library from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. We recommend scheduling an appointment for research questions so we may better prepare materials for your visit. You can also check out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts at @dclarchives.

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