Florida Keys News
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
History on hold for minor repairs at library
Florida History Room reopens next week

Attention procrastinators, both students and professionals: Don't wait until the weekend to hit the library's Florida History Room for the research project that's due Monday.

The heavy wooden door that takes visitors back in time will be locked for a few days, inciting panic in anyone who was counting on the room's contents at the last minute.

The Florida History Room, located in the Key West branch of the Monroe County Library on Fleming Street, will be closed Wednesday through Monday and will reopen a week from today sporting a brand new floor.

"It's just a safety issue," said Historian Tom Hambright. "The old tile is coming up in several places and it's getting replaced, but we can't have anyone in here while the work is happening, since we'll have to move everything to one side of the room, then the other."

The deparment, tucked away in a quiet corner of the library since the 1970s, is the repository of Florida Keys history.

Stacks of photos, slides, property deeds, court records and other historical documents fill a vault attached to the department, which also offers tables, chairs and computers for research.

But Hambright himself is one of the county's most valuable resources.

A walking encyclopedia of Keys history, Hambright knows every last name, historic date and juicy scandal that helped shape history here, along with Indian attacks, naval operations and political trends.

An estimated 8,000 people visit Hambright's domain each year; some merely curious and others on a mission.

They come seeking genealogy information, or the background of a historice property. They want election records, hurricane statistics and old photos.

All total, the department houses more than 5,000 books, 335,000 photos and 250 linear feet of historical documents and manuscripts.

The collection of historical documents and photos grows by 15 linear feet a year, said Library Administrator Anne Layton Rice.

"We encourage people to bring stuff in," Hambright said. "We can't handle it all."

He is hoping to hire an archivist in this year's county budget cycle to help with the cataloguing.

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.

Technology and the Internet have granted everyone free access to the library's historical photos.

Thousands have been scanned and posted online with historical information, people shown in the photos and the locations of buildings long ago destroyed by fires.

Until the history department reopens on Tuesday, Sept. 16, the photos are still available at bit.ly/keyspix.

mmiles@keysnews.com

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