Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Found It In The Archives: The History of Archives & Special Collections

Today Archives & Special Collections takes up two rooms filled with hundreds of shelves. But did you know that originally the Archives material filled cupboards on the top floor of the library? A look into the past of Archives & Special Collections reveals a long history of moves.

Today the contents of the Archives and Special Collections is carefully tucked into special boxes and neatly arranged on shelves in a temperature-controlled room. It wasn't always so. From the early 1930s stretching back possibly to the construction of the library, three cupboards on the top floor of the library served as the location for the Archives. Letters, documents, and a variety of other things (including locks of Mary Lyon’s hair!) were packed into boxes of all shapes and sizes in these large cupboards. Nineteen thirty-three was the year everything changed after the Class of 1929 donated a generous gift to the cause.

The Rare Books now housed in the Special Collections were in a better state at this point. They and the main Archives were stored in the Treasure Room, or Mary Cleveland Room, now staff offices, found on your left before the Stimson Room. Marion Marsh Randall, Class of 1910 and head cataloguer at the MHC Library in the 1930s, describes the room in detail in the May 1937 issue of the Alumnae Quarterly:

“Greens, golds and brown predominate; pale tinted walls, the dark woodwork of long recessed bookshelves, deep rug and comfortable low chairs of rust color.”

Over thirty years later, after a renovation of the library in 1969, the Archives moved to the mezzanine at the south end of the Reference Room, now home to the SAW Center. After another renovation in 1975, the Archives gained some space on Floor 2 ½, under the Reference Room. The Archives could not entirely fit in these spaces, however, so the materials were also spread to a study on the sixth floor as well as some filing cabinets on the fourth floor and some stacks in the Library basement. It wasn’t until 1976 that someone had the idea to move the Archives to its final basement home in Dwight Hall. Material from the Treasure Room, also known at the time as “The Vault,” as well as the Cleveland Room and even three different floors of Mary Woolley Hall (commonly known today as Chapin because it houses Chapin Auditorium) were set to be brought together in to the College History and Archives collection.

In April 1990, the Archives moved a final time to the basement of Dwight Hall. Our reading room may look quite different, but one thing has stayed the same: our Archivist, Patricia Albright, pictured below with Elaine Trehub.

The Special Collections wasn’t done moving yet, however. By 1999, it was located on the seventh floor of Miles-Smith, now home to Digital Assets and Preservation Services. It only moved to join the Archives in the basement of Dwight five years ago, in 2008.

Come be a part of Archives and Special Collections history by stopping by at any time Monday through Friday, 9:30am to noon and 1pm to 4:30 pm. We're also open extended hours during Reunion I and II weekends! 

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