Thursday, December 11, 2008

Some thoughts on working at the Butler Center

Marc Gibson started at the Butler Center as an intern in June and was hired on as a regular employee in August. Officially he is the "Butler Center Page," but, given the variety of his work, prefers to go by “Butler Center Monkey” or, more professionally, “Butler Center Simian Assistant.” Marc took time out of his busy schedule to share with us some of his thoughts about working at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

One of the nicest things about working at the Butler Center is the opportunity I have had to see just how much state and local history means to our patrons. Those of you who have lived a sessile lifestyle and were exposed to local history all your life might take it for granted that history means something to the people of Arkansas. As an army brat who frequently moved across state and national borders, history for me was not only another time, but almost always another place. Having no true home state or town to call my own precluded me from having anything but the most tenuous connections to local history which, in turn, means that I was a history orphan. Have no fear, gentle readers, as this story has a happy ending.

While studiously manning the front desk at the BC, I have had ample opportunity to assist our patrons in their genealogical quests to discover themselves. I have never had much of an interest in my own genealogy and was shocked to discover that the genealogy of others is actually quite interesting. We have one African-American patron researching his great-grandfather who was a Buffalo Soldier and lived to be 101 years old. Aside from the gee-whiz-this-is-cool factor, which, quite frankly, is good enough for me, the genealogical records can also be used to fit individual lives into the context of historical changes. For example, by examining the census records of the latter half of the nineteenth century, you can observe that more and more Americans were moving from rural to urban areas. I bet when the 1940 census is available, we will find a lot of people who were in the 1930 Oklahoma census in places like California or Texas.

Perhaps one of the most satisfying aspects of my employment at the BC has been my limited involvement with BASE (Books for Arkansas Students' Education). I cannot say that entering book titles into a grand database or a catalog is particularly exciting, but knowing that these books are going to disadvantaged high schools makes it all worthwhile. Working with BASE has enabled me to get in touch with my inner hippie by providing others with the opportunity to get in touch with their Arkansas roots. It has also helped me feel more connected to Arkansas history than I ever felt before. I have adopted Arkansas history as my own local history, so I suppose that means I am no longer a history orphan. See, I promised you a happy ending, and I delivered.

Contributed by Marc Gibson.


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