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Engaging History: North Carolina Room Changes Name, Improves Space


historic photos of Black Americans

The North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library is making changes. As of Jan. 22, 2021, the North Carolina Room will be known as Buncombe County Special Collections (BCSC). The transition and vision is the result of months of collaboration between Collection Manager Katherine Calhoun Cutshall and her team, Library Director Jim Blanton, Artist-in-Residence and founder of Different Wlrd Honey Simone, and Director of Engaging Collections Lydia See.

Cutshall notes the vision for BCSC is a new space that is engaging for everyone. “We wanted to remove barriers to really get people interested in our collective past,” says Cutshall. Changes include improvements to wayfinding and access, intentional rearrangement of the order within the collection (a move away from the ever-present Dewey Decimal System), and dynamic exhibits that will help increase the opportunity for all library patrons to discover and engage with history.

Two women look at historic photos in a library.

Through a collaboration with Engaging Collections, BCSC is proud to unveil a new interactive art and archives exhibit. Spearheaded by Simone, “The Carolina Record Shop” is a creative installation that highlights music, images, and stories of Black Asheville in a way that will help bring those stories to life.

The Carolina Record Shop comes to life

In late 2019, Pack Memorial Library and Buncombe County Community Engagement teamed up to host the community-led Black Asheville History Harvest events. That project prompted discussions around representation and visibility of people of color and other marginalized histories within the BCSC collection, and Cutshall and her team reached out to Engaging Collections’ Lydia See.

“The goals of Engaging Collections are to demystify access to special collections and archives, and amplify the indispensable role artists play as cultural translators within the community,” says See. As part of a resident artist program, Simone sought to design a welcoming space to creatively reframe and expand upon the histories and legacies of people of color in our community, and design a welcoming space within which to do so. “It’s powerful, essential work that I’m truly grateful to be a part of,” says See.

For Simone, the work was personal. “Most of my life I have struggled with my identity not because I don’t know who I am, but because I don’t know where I came from,” she says. “When I first walked into the NC Room, I didn’t see myself represented. If there are archives documenting Black families, where are they? What stories are being told, and through whose lens? I’m aware of the reasons why I might not find a reflection of myself in these archives, but that needed to change. I have and will continue to hold space for the erasure of Black families in our history. When you see us, see us.”

In addition to offering more programming like the History Harvests, BCSC will become more equipped and hospitable for community researchers, artists, and those unfamiliar with special collections in general. “This redesign is an exciting revitalization of the Library’s local history resources,” notes Library Director Jim Blanton. “Most importantly, it is a critical step forward in making the space more welcoming and inclusive of the entire community.” Visit buncombecounty.org/library for more information on upcoming events and to make an appointment to visit BCSC.

An historic photo of a group of Black men in various uniforms.