Harnett County Public Library Provides Prominent Home For Local History

Della Owens, Local History Librarian, with bust of Paul Green

HARNETT COUNTY — Some have said that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” But, perhaps, a young pup can learn some old ones.

Della Owens was hired as the reference, local history, and genealogy librarian for the Harnett County Public Library in March. One of her primary tasks is to oversee the local history room at the new Harnett County Resource Center and Library, which opened in April. Owens received her Master of Library and Information Science from UNC Greensboro.

“I got really interested in archives and their role in the community—how they connect people with materials that might otherwise have been thrown away,” Owens said in a sit-down inside the local history room. “I started finding more and more interest in materials from the past.”

One of her past jobs involved giving tours of the McCown-Mangum House at West Point, located along the Eno River north of Durham. She became personally intrigued with the history of the family that lived and worked on that property. “It rekindled my interest in my own family. I don’t have a strong connection with my extended family; so, through genealogy, obituaries, all this research: it really helped me to develop a love for all of this.”

Library Director Angela McCauley explained the Library’s desire to have a prominent local history room in the new facility: “In our former location, we lacked space to adequately store the local history collection. For several years, the collection was housed on shelves located in a small area of the public meeting room. This setup was less than ideal as it often led to interrupted meetings. Because of the limited space, local history room items were tightly shelved or locked away in a storage room that was not accessible to the public.”

Wall of local history room

Now, the dedicated room at the new library showcases the majority of items in curation, providing easy access for the public to conduct research and learn about Harnett County’s rich history. A sampling of the content available includes the North Carolina Genealogical Society Journal, select high school yearbooks, binders containing the history of local families, and writings by local authors. “Our most prominent collection would be our Paul Green collection,” Owens said; “he was a playwright here. Some of the more well-used items we have include Harnett County history and history of surrounding counties. We also have binders that have past census data, and records of marriages and deaths.” Owens also stated that the library has reprints of various original sources.

In the future, the library plans to offer genealogy classes. The library also desires to expand its collection and is actively seeking donations of past high school yearbooks from schools in Harnett County, with special interest in copies of yearbooks printed prior to 1975. The library is also seeking donations of locally-based books and historical photographs.

The local history room is a great way for county residents to learn more about the place they live and gain a deeper appreciation for their home. In addition, Owens is available to help residents track down their family history through various genealogy services and land ownership through the county’s geographic information system (GIS).

For those that would rather do research from home: library card holders have access to Ancestry Library Edition and HeritageQuest both on the library’s campus and on their home systems. In addition, access to newspapers.com and Heritage Hub is also available in order to research death notices from as early as 1704. Finally: there is access to the Black Life in America database; it illustrates the experience and impact of African Americans as recorded by the news media of the time from the early 18th century to the modern day.

Visitors are able to walk in and browse the local history room’s materials during Library hours, which are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Content in the local history room is considered to be reference material and cannot be checked out. Owens is available for extended consultations with those needing help through the “Book a Librarian” page at www.harnett.org/library or by calling Owens at (910) 814-6340.