Anna Kephart says she gets stressed just retelling the story.
Kephart, the coordinator of the Southern Maryland Studies Center (SMSC) at the College of Southern Maryland (CSM), was contacted about an opportunity the first week of January 2016. The Maryland Independent, a community newspaper that had been based at an office in Waldorf since the mid-1980s, was moving to a smaller location in White Plains. The paper had been purchased by Adams Publishing Group, LLC (APG), a media company with offices on the Eastern Shore. APG didn’t have space to move the decades of physical newspaper archives and related materials to the new office nor the space to store the materials elsewhere.
Would the SMSC be interested in the materials? The question was an archivist’s dream.
This is what made the situation stressful — a new home was needed for this community record, and the new home was needed by March 1, less than eight weeks away.
Kephart quickly set up a series of site visits to evaluate the materials. The SMSC collects and protects archival material related to the region, and the Maryland Independent’s stash was a treasure trove. Wearing a mask to protect herself from potential mold spores and a camping headlamp to light the way in the dimly lit storage area, Kephart climbed up and down stairs and peered into stacks of materials, discovering that the endangered collection included hundreds of bound volumes of not just the Maryland Independent, but also The Enterprise, St. Mary’s Beacon, Flightline, The Calvert Recorder and other newspapers, as well as photo negatives, contact sheets, CDs of archived photos and a mishmash of other paper records collected over the years.
“I was overwhelmed,” Kephart said.
It was clear that the SMSC wouldn’t be able to take everything offered. “It would have doubled our current holdings,” she said. “It was not feasible.”
But SMSC could take parts of the collection. The staff believed the SMSC could house the boxes and boxes of photo contact sheets with accompanying negatives, as well as the large envelopes stuffed with photos that had been printed for use in the paper, CDs of archived photos and other miscellaneous papers like fair books and story notes that Kephart deemed particularly valuable. The collection included photos of decades of county fairs, Jaycees projects, first days of school, championship basketball games and all the other events that make up the history of a place.
“But it wasn’t just about what’s in it for us. It was about how can we find homes for the remainder before it’s too late,” Kephart said, remembering she felt “immense pressure” to save the bound copies of the newspapers before they were lost forever. So, she also worked with archivist contacts throughout the state to help find homes for the remainder of the materials.
The bound copies of The Enterprise were already slated to be moved to St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM), where they were combined with other bound copies from The Enterprise office, an effort coordinated by Jason Babcock, a reporter from that paper anxious to save the volumes. The SMCM library now houses a collection of bound copies of The Enterprise from 1952 to 2015 and bound copies of the St. Mary’s Beacon from 1957 to 1982.
Copies of The Calvert Recorder were taken by the Calvert County Historical Society, and the bound copies of the Maryland Independent went to the Maryland State Archives, together with several additional titles. Kephart notes, however, that the SMSC maintains a microfilm run from 1874 to the present of the Maryland Independent at the center’s La Plata Campus location for those who don’t want to travel to Annapolis to use bound volumes of the Maryland Independent for research.
The Maryland Independent photography materials now at SMSC need to be processed and appropriately protected, a job that won’t be entirely complete for several months, Kephart said. But they are safe.
“We are grateful for Anna’s hard work and for her to recognize the value of these archives,” said Maryland Independent Editor Rob Perry. “The Studies Center is now home to this collection and is accessible to all Charles County residents and history enthusiasts.”
The space and the effort required to protect the Maryland Independent collection is worth it, Kephart said. While newspaper materials from only 40 years ago might not seem that historically valuable now, they provide a particularly objective overall view of the community.
“It’s like a core sample,” Kephart said. “Many decades from now, it’s going to provide a really, richly detailed picture of life in the 80s and 90s in Southern Maryland.
“As a community newspaper that has been serving Charles County since 1872, we record the county’s history with each edition we publish,” Perry said. “It is important that we document the growth and development of the community around us, and newspapers play a vital role in that regard. We take our role seriously and hope the community realizes the value of our role, and seeing the archives at the studies center is tangible proof of that importance.”
This is not the first time that CSM has been involved with the Maryland Independent photo archives. Gary Smith, the paper’s photographer from 1985 until his death in early 2009, was also a CSM photography instructor. To honor Smith at his death, thousands of his images were reviewed by CSM staff and former newspaper colleagues to create an exhibit of approximately 300 of those photos. The exhibit, called “Ordinary days, extraordinary moments: Charles County through the Lens of Gary Smith,” was on display from June through August 2009 at CSM’s Tony Hungerford Memorial Art Gallery at the La Plata Campus. The exhibit was then donated to the SMSC.
In addition, the Gary D. Smith Memorial Scholarship was established through the CSM Foundation for CSM students interested in the field of communication including photography, the visual arts and music.
For information on the Southern Maryland Studies Center or to view a part of its Maryland Independent photo collection, call 301-934-7606, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.csmd.edu/community/southern-maryland-studies-center/.