Documenting an Environmental Disaster: The River Valley Collection at Marion Public Library




Fairclough, Ian

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Marion Public Library (located in Marion, Ohio, 45 miles north of Columbus) serves as repository for a collection of documents produced in response to local concern about the incidence of leukemia and other ailments among the population. Former athletes at the River Valley High School, several miles east of town, were particularly at risk. Inquiries revealed that the school was built on a former WW II military site, and that the school's ballpark was above a dump site for noxious chemicals. From being considered a relatively minor issue, local outrage grew until something was done. The school was relocated and the old buildings closed. Eventually the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and its contracting agency Montgomery Watson, cleaned up the site. One consequence was the production of voluminous documentation, requiring the attention of a Documents Librarian and a Catalog Librarian. The resulting repository is of interest to scholars, and the library has received a surprising number of requests via interlibrary loan. Such requests, made possible via appropriate bibliographic description and access, demonstrate that a collection of primarily local interest can serve a wider community, provided that proper attention is given to its maintenance. Of particular interest to scholars of grey literature is the issue that arose during the course of the documentation project of the partial transition from a paper‐based paradigm to electronic resources. Initially, documentation was generated, in most cases using electronic technology, with a view to the paper version as end product. The realization that documentation in an electronic medium can serve as the objective happened during the course of the project, but was not fully realized. Indeed, the persons who generated the documentation are not known to have expressed the transition from paper to electronic version as a concept. As a consequence, further work entailing retrieval of the electronic originals where still available, and document scanning where not, remains a possibility. Such work will likely fall to librarians; it is unlikely that the original authors will assume responsibility.