Deep in the bowels of the huge National Archives storage center outside of Perris are 15-foot-high shelves of countless manila files that chronicle much of the history of the Inland area.Related
The problem is, few people ever visit the center — or even know it exists.
But through Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter, the National Archives is showcasing some of its most compelling photos and documents to anyone with a computer. The hope is that some will be enticed to visit the 23,500-square-foot center.
“This is providing access to our records in a way that people currently expect to access records: online,” said Pam Wright, chief digital access strategist for the National Archives in Washington, D.C. “It’s about opening up and being more transparent, participatory and collaborative.”
The National Archives at Riverside — the official name of the regional archives center, even though it’s closer to Perris — is at the forefront of promoting its vast collection through social media.
It’s the only one of the 13 regional offices on the visually oriented Tumblr site. The Perris center has had a Facebook site for more than a year.
Some postings have received more than 200 “likes,” shares and re-blogs, indicating widespread interest, said Gwen Granados, director of the Perris office.
“We’re trying to promote outreach to the community,” Granados said. “I don’t know yet where this is going, I’ll be honest. I’m interested in seeing how this plays out.”
The Perris center contains records for Southern California, Arizona and the Las Vegas area. It moved from a cramped location in Laguna Niguel in 2010.
The out-of-the-way site — in a non-descript building at the terminus of a dead-end road next to a recycling facility and behind a limousine factory — was selected to save money, Granados said. But it also means it’s almost impossible to find unless you’re looking for it.
About 200 to 300 people a month, primarily students and genealogy researchers, visit the Perris archives every month, she said.
The National Archives holds some of the most important legal and historical documents from the federal government, including the original copy of the U.S. Constitution in its Washington building and reams of land records in regional offices.
Granados hopes that viewers who stumble upon archives materials while surfing the Internet will become regular visitors to the archives’ social-media sites and that some will travel to Perris to peruse documents and photos in person.
To promote the archives, Granados or another staff member posts at least one regional photo a week — with an accompanying explanation to put it in context — on Tumblr to add to daily feeds from the central National Archives office in Washington. Regular posts and interaction with viewers also are on Facebook.
In recent weeks, among the records the Perris center displayed were photos of a citrus-crate-stapling machine from a 1934 court case.
The machines were advanced technology at the time, and the 75 or so court battles that Riverside’s George and Clara Parker fought to protect their packinghouse-related patents illustrates how citrus was central to the area’s economy at the time, Granados said.
In May, the archives displayed photos of Chinese residents who were deported from Southern California under the racist 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its successor laws.
Candidates for a future posting include photos and records documenting a huge flood that swept through the Inland area in 1938.
One shows a flag to mark where a buried car was found on Mission Boulevard in Rubidoux. Others depict a washed-out Colton rail yard, a flooded Fairmount Park in Riverside, buckled highways and a mud-filled backyard.
The archives’ documents include a letter written by a government official during the Civil War on June 23, 1863, that in cursive handwriting describes the “pursuit of the part of secessionists from San Bernardino County, California, en route to Texas, to join the Rebel Army.”
Security is high at the center. Cameras and a staff member observe visitors, who can take notes only with archives-approved pencils and white legal paper.
In the archives’ materials-processing room one recent afternoon, volunteer Janie Nam carefully thumbed through discolored, sometimes brittle Arizona territorial land records.
Nam, of Anaheim, said she enjoys reading the records as she prepares them for storage.
“It’s a peek into the past and to how people lived then,” she said.
Follow David Olson on Twitter: @DavidOlson11
Archives On The Web
To look through the postings of the National Archives at Riverside, go to: riversidearchives.tumblr.com/archive. Its Facebook page is www.facebook.com/nationalarchivesriverside.
For more information on the center, go to www.archives.gov/pacific/riverside or call 951-956-2000.