Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Key West branch of the Monroe County Library lies the repository of Florida Keys history.
Stacks of photos, slides, property deeds, court records and other historical documents fill a vault in the Florida Keys History Department of the library.
The care and retention of the records have been entrusted to one man, Keys historian Tom Hambright. However, when Hambright, a walking encyclopaedia of Keys history, eventually retires, he wants to leave the library with a system for tracking its vast collection of historic records and artifacts.
Hambright, the sole caretaker of the collection, said he has not been able to catalog it in its entirety.
His daily routine is filled with distractions as he traipses between his desk and the vault, answering phone and email queries and responding to numerous daily in-person requests from inquisitive visitors. He said 8,000 people visit the Florida Keys History Department each year. He estimates email and telephone requests are in the thousands.
While he has created a rudimentary paper filing system, and many of the thousands of photos have been scanned into the library's computer system and are available online, a digital catalog of the collection is lacking.
One possible solution being considered by the County Commission is an archivist, who would be tasked with developing such a catalog. Commissioners are expected to vote on the position when they set the county budget in September.
All total, the Florida Keys History Department houses more than 5,000 books, 335,000 photos and 250 linear feet of historical documents and manuscripts. The collection of historical documents and photos grows by 15 linear feet a year, making the task of cataloguing even more difficult, said Library Administrator Anne Layton Rice.
"We encourage people to bring stuff in," Hambright said. "We can't handle it all."
The library has stacks of unopened boxes donated years ago by the estates of the late Wilhelmina Harvey and Keys marine biologist Ed Little.
The archivist would be responsible for preserving and organizing the material and provide "intellectual control of the collections, which is paramount to the proper care, cataloging and organization of the collection," Rice said, adding that he or she would create an electronic database and search aids, and be responsible for the repair and conservation of the records.
She said an archivist also would decrease the possibility of damage and theft of the photos and documents.