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Byrd Legislative Center prepares for archiving Byrd's collection

ISSUED: 8 July 2010
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens
(Byrd Legislative Center prepares for archiving Byrd's collection)

Shepherdstown, WV--The Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies opened at Shepherd University in August 2002 as a center that would house the senator's collection and be a study and research center of the United States Constitution.

"It was dear to Senator Byrd's heart," Dr. Ray Smock, director of the center, said. "He was one of the great champions of the constitution."

To date, the center has acquired 800 cubic feet (approximately 800 storage boxes) of documents, including speeches, school report cards, childhood mementos, thousands of photos, campaign materials, audio and video of the Senator, and personal papers, including correspondence with 12 different U.S. presidents. In the coming months following Senator Byrd's death, the center will acquire all documents from his office, including personal and staff files, which could amount to an additional 2,000 cubic feet of documents.

The archiving process could take several years to finish, according to Smock; once complete, researchers will be able to take advantage of the resources by visiting the center.

The most important documents from the collection will be digitized and made available online. In addition, the center will soon launch a statewide oral history project to interview friends, staff, and colleagues who will provide anecdotes about Senator Byrd's life.

Smock said that the collection will fill the archives at the center; some duplicates, such as those of speeches, will be discarded. "We will have room for the fully processed collection," Smock said. "We won't know what we have until it's all opened. It's a process of discovery."

Smock said that the job is a dream for archivists who are able to see history in its raw state.

According to Smock, there are 50 similar congressional centers across the country, some of which are also on college campuses. Other centers are dedicated to current policies, while the Byrd Center focuses on historic research. "The Byrd Center is the only center dedicated to Senator Byrd and congressional research, his particular interest," Smock said.

Smock said that Senator Byrd's legacy can be seen all over the state and on Shepherd's campus. "Now he belongs to the ages," Smock said. "We want to preserve this unique chunk of American history."

Smock knew the senator for 27 years and worked with him and his staff previously on various projects. Senator Byrd visited the center several times. "He enjoyed seeing how it turned out. He followed its process closely," Smock said.

The Center, which is run by the Congressional Education Foundation, is frequently used for campus events. One of the defining factors in Shepherd being selected as the home for the center is its proximity to the nation's capital. "He always liked the campus and wanted them to be available to researchers in the D.C. area," Smock said.

Senator Byrd gave the inaugural Constitution Day address at Shepherd University in September 2005. It was through his leadership that the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 contained language that educational institutions receiving federal funds shall hold an educational program for their students on the United States Constitution on September 17. This year's event will be held on Thursday, September 16 at 7 p.m. at the Byrd Center auditorium. Shoba Sivaprasad Wadiha, the director of the Center for Immigrants' Rights at the Penn State Law School, will be the featured speaker.

"Our job isn't to shape history, but to process it so people can use it," Smock said. "He was a unique American politician. His story is fascinating--from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power."

-30-KESNER

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Dr. Ray Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies sits in his office in the Center, which will be receiving the remainder of Senator Byrd's collection of speeches, files, and personal papers in the coming months.

Dr. Ray Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies takes inventory of files in the archive room at the center.

Dr. Ray Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies, and Marc Levitt, archivist for the center, hold up a campaign poster from Byrd's 1976 presidential race.

Marc Levitt, archivist; Dr. Ray Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies; David Hostetter, director of programs and research; and Lilly Phipps, office manager, look through a box of archives in the reading room at the center.

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