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August 28, 2012

History keeper: New Albany-Floyd County Public Library’s new archivist hits the ground running

NEW ALBANY — The Indiana Room on the first floor of the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library tells a story, from our lineage to the founding of New Albany in 1813 by the Scribner brothers.

It’s a story that has been preserved and told to generations for nearly 200 years. And if Matt Eidem has anything to say about it, it will be preserved for another 200 and more.

Eidem, 28, was hired as the first-ever archivist for the Indiana Room last month. While part of his first month on the job is learning the history of the area and what the Indiana Room contains, he already is putting plans in place to preserve old documents and papers that tell Floyd County and New Albany’s history.

“I’ve been going through the collections to see what we have,” said Eidem, who came to New Albany from the Milwaukee area. “I think we have a wonderful collection and the staff here has been very helpful. New Albany seems to have a rich history and I am here to preserve it.”

Eidem said the Indiana Room has a “strong genealogy collection” that people use to chart family roots. He said he hopes to add to those services. He also wants to add more shelving since the Indiana Room frequently receives donations from individuals. He said preserving old papers and documents properly so visitors can look at or use them for research is also a goal.

“It’s a job that doesn’t end,” he said of preserving history.

Floyd County Historian David Barksdale said he was pleased the library hired an archivist.

“They have numerous original documents and having a professional there looking over them is a good move on their part,” Barksdale said. “I think the Indiana Room is one of the best places around for research. I really appreciate the library’s administration seeing the importance of that room and hiring an archivist.”

Barksdale calls the Indiana Room “a mini museum” and said it was his second home. He also said in the past year, the Indiana Room has done a great job in displaying some of the old and one-of-a-kind documents for the public to view.

Eidem said he knew nothing about New Albany before moving here from Wisconsin. He said one reason he was attracted to the area was to be closer to his wife’s family in Atlanta.

“The job was something I was very much interested in. I have a lot of schooling behind me and now I am able to use what I have learned,” said Eidem, a history major who has a masters degree in library sciences. “I did a lot of archaeological work as a history student.”

Eidem said many documents and papers are as fragile as tissue paper and must be preserved and stored properly.

“I’ve been ordering boxes and doing repairs ... it’s a very slow process. You can only do one document at a time,” he said. “Things have to be stored properly. We have a great staff here — I am definitely not in this alone.”

He said he wants to add to the online presence for genealogy research. He also said for New Albany’s bicentennial, anyone who lives in a house older than 1963 can come to the Indiana Room, register their home and receive a certificate when finishing the process.

NA-FC Library Director Rose Frost said a nationwide search was conducted for the ideal candidate. She said Eidem will be charged with implementing the report from State Archivist Jim Corridan released earlier this year regarding creating more space and developing policies and procedures to protect the invaluable resources of the Indiana Room.

In addition, she said he will be working with potential donors who are looking for a proper repository for their personal collections of New Albany memorabilia and genealogy research.

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