Peterson Collection Preserves Local History

Peterson Collection Available to Public at McPherson Public Library

By Anne Hassler Heidel

McPherson News

When Linn Peterson passed away in 2010 he left a treasure trove of information about the City of McPherson and McPherson County neatly organized in his basement. A former city and county clerk, Peterson had an appreciation for documents that captured the history and uniqueness of the community.

“Linn had an eye for recognizing what was a good historical tidbit. He could appreciate the little details that added color to the town,” said Steve Read, Head Librarian for the McPherson Public Library.

Peterson had amassed thousands of items from photographs to legal documents to maps and brochures. He kept them organized in a filing system in his basement. He became known to others in the community as a collector of historical items and his wife, Mary, recalls many times when a family would clean out a loved ones home and bring Linn a box of documents for his collection.

Mary was left to decide what to do the documents that she and Linn had painstakingly put together over a lifetime. The state historical society in Topeka had shown interest in the collection and the Petersons had in fact sent some items to Topeka already. Board members from the McPherson Public Library had also contacted the Petersons about donating the collection to the library but, feeling pressured, the couple declined to commit.

Once the library remodeled in 2008 to include a large room dedicated to McPherson history, the Petersons came around to donating the collection and keeping it local.

“Steve convinced me that the collection would receive more attention by the staff than it would in Topeka. We ended up asking them to send most of the items back from Topeka and felt like it would be more appreciated here,” Mary Peterson said.

The McPherson Public Library has a half-time archivist on staff and Read has personally indexed and organized all of the items donated by the Petersons. All of the photographs have been scanned and indexed online and can be viewed on the library’s website The rest of the documents were cataloged and can be accessed at the library by requesting items from the staff. In order to keep the items from walking off, only two items may be viewed at a time and must stay on premises. The staff then checks to make sure the contents are all there when returned.

“There’s a balance we want to keep between preservation and accessibility,” Read said.

Given the delicate nature of some of the materials, the library has invested in archival storage folders and large, transparent sleeves for maps and other large documents.

Mary Peterson viewed the collection with her family and gave high praise to Read’s efforts. She said the experience was a positive one and felt it was a good collaboration.

“I went through every item before donating it. I would let Steve know when I had a box ready to go and he would come and pick it up and bring me a new box to fill,” Mary Peterson said.

While it’s been a lengthy process, Read is pleased with the end result and the the fact the collection is being widely used by library patrons.

“It’s so important to preserve our history because once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Mary Peterson said.

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