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In Other Words: Materials in archives are unique and irreplaceable

October is Archives Month in South Dakota and in much of the United States. It provides an opportunity to celebrate our history and share our memories. But misconceptions prevent people from appreciating the wonders of archives.

One common misconception is that archives contain old stuff that's hidden away that no one is allowed to use. The reality is that archives are busy, vibrant places filled with treasure troves of information, photos, letters, books, scrapbooks, films, tapes, vinyl records and CDs. While some materials are old, others are new -- the latest issues of the DWU student newspaper and the campus newsletter are routinely added to the archives.

Unlike library materials, which can be replaced if lost, archives materials are unique and irreplaceable. The church records in the Dakotas Conference Archives are an example. These records include church memberships, baptisms, marriages and deaths from closed United Methodist (and predecessor denominations including Evangelical Association and Evangelical United Brethren) churches in the Dakotas Conference, which covers North and South Dakota. These records are kept secure so that they are available when needed.

And the archives are always being used. This year is DWUs 125th anniversary and it's an exciting time to be part of the campus community. For the past two years, the archives have been even busier than usual because of all the projects connected to the anniversary. Jim McLaird's new book, "The Dakota Wesleyan University Memory Book, 1885-2010" is a wonderful example of how the archives are used. Told from the students' perspective, this book tells of the triumphs, tragedies and everyday life set against the broader historical backdrop. Pre-World War II peace marches; KKK activity in Mitchell; visits from the Harlem Globe Trotters and American presidents and the turmoil of the "dancing controversy," are just a few examples. Celebrity alumni such as Gary Owens of "Laugh-In" fame and Shannon Bolin of "Damn Yankees" are featured, as are others whose names may not be recognizable but who are remarkable nonetheless. And the evolution of DWUs traditions -- such as homecoming, Halloween, May Day and Washington's Birthday -- illustrate that the more things change, the more they stay the same; and there really is very little under the sun that is new. Yet all these wonderful stories and photos in the book are just the tip of the iceberg -- there is so much more in the archives.

Our Senator Francis Case Collections contains among his political papers his work on damming the Missouri River to produce hydroelectric power as well as locating Interstate 29 in South Dakota rather than neighboring Minnesota. Other materials include cloud seeding and a proposal to create a United Nations site in Case's beloved Black Hills.

Also in October, the United Methodist in the Dakotas will begin celebrating 150 years of Methodism within our borders. On Oct. 14, 1860, the Rev. Septimus Ingham, a Methodist circuit rider, preached at Vermillion; he organized the first Methodist society in Dakota Territory on Jan. 13, 1861, also at Vermillion. We will remember and honor the churches and their pastors that may be gone but will never be forgotten -- because the information is saved in the archives.

Laurie Langland is an archivist for Dakota Wesleyan University and the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church.

In Other Words features opinions from local and other contributors who have areas of special interest or expertise. Material shouldn't exceed 600 words and can be sent, along with a photo, to: Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301. The Daily Republic cannot guarantee all submitted material will be used.