BY CHRISTOPHER LIVINGSTON, Contributing columnist
Treasure can be found anywhere, but its value isn't always so obvious at first glance. In my role as special collections librarian, I'm a treasure hunter -- not of gold or other gems -- but of information. Yellowing photographs and tattered documents may not fetch a fortune on eBay, but they tell us who we are, how we got here and why.
When I was named special collections librarian of Kern County Library's Jack Maguire Local History Room at the Beale Memorial Library two years ago, I was charged with the task of getting familiar with the contents of the room, a hard job at times as some of the materials are not cataloged or easy to find. Each day brings a new search and a new challenge.
I expect that once the scope and breadth of the records become fully known, we will be able to significantly add to the history of Kern County and maybe even formulate new ideas about how we think about it.
-- Christopher Livingston, special collections librarian of Kern County Library's Jack Maguire Local History Room
It wasn't long after I took charge of the Local History Room that I was sent on my first treasure hunt. I received a phone call from a research firm in Northern California looking for 1920s tax records listed in the Kern County Library online catalog. I had visions of old dusty leather-bound books full of little-known historical tidbits. This would be a snap. When I looked in the catalog, I saw that the records in question showed "Kern County Headquarters" as the location. Easy! "Headquarters" was right here at the Beale Memorial Library. But ... I couldn't find the records.
OK, the records in question were old, that was obvious, so my first inclination was to look in the vault. Not there. I looked in every possible location in the Local History Room and still no luck. I had to rely on one of the oldest means of research: I asked. My search finally led me to the records' location: the basement of the Beale Memorial Library -- but not the Beale as we know it today. It was the old Beale Memorial Library, at 1415 Truxtun Ave., built after the 1952 earthquake. Today the building is home to Kern County Jury Services.
Being the intrepid treasure hunter I am, I took myself to the mother-lode of Kern County Records: a basement full of records belonging to a variety of owners. Some belonged to the county, some to the state, some to the Kern County Library, and some to the Kern County Historical Records Commission. Here I was in the midst of local historical nirvana and I had to make sure that I didn't take a record belonging to another department. It was decided that the historical records commission should meet to discuss the ownership and disposition of the records. Because of my position as special collections librarian, I was appointed to serve on the commission as representative of the Kern County Library.
Of course in any treasure hunt, there are obstacles. At a meeting in October 2009, it was revealed that the Superior Court building was now under state jurisdiction and that the commission had until March 2010 to move the records -- lots of records, very little time. The commission decided the records should be relocated to the library and it became my task to survey the records in the room and plan for their move to the Beale Memorial Library. With the assistance of Amanda Grombly, an intern from San Jose State's School of Library and Information Science and a fellow treasurer hunter, we conducted a general survey of the records and began planning for the move, which would take weeks. Some records weighed as much as 25 pounds.
But then a solution came at the Kern County Historical Society's monthly board meeting a year ago. Ken Hooper, history teacher and adviser to the Bakersfield High School Archives Academy, volunteered his class to assist with the move. Hooper describes the class as "part of the CEO Academy at Bakersfield High School, a senior level archiving class, so they are familiar with the care, movement, and storage of historic artifacts."
Now we had the necessary manpower to assist in the move, which was completed in February. "What would have taken four people two weeks to move, was finished in four hours using the manpower of 15 high school students," Hooper said.
Amanda and I began to group the records to create an inventory, a complex but rewarding task. In every record was the opportunity to learn something new and remarkable about our history. With these "new" records, we have ready access to more than 500 additional individual items that include a variety of topics such as property taxes, delinquent property taxes, sewer bonds, military enlistments, license records, Fire Department logs, street improvements, minutes of Board of Supervisors meetings, city of McKittrick council minutes and ordinances, hunting licenses, registers of doctors, police court records, and much, much more. At this time the records are not quite ready for research; however, I anticipate they will be readily available to the public in January.
These, and all records, are important to preserving the history of our community. I expect that once the scope and breadth of the records become fully known, we will be able to significantly add to the history of Kern County and maybe even formulate new ideas about how we think about it. It is important that we remember our history because it influences who we are today and shapes who we will become in the future.
If you wish to learn more about Kern County history, the Jack Maguire Local History room has many resources at your disposal. I invite you to visit the room; you never know what you'll discover. Jack Maguire Local History Room is located at the Beale Memorial Library, 701 Truxtun Ave. Call 868-0775 for more information.