Public invited to Virginia Tech Special Collections open houses
BLACKSBURG – The Special Collections Department at Virginia Tech’s University Libraries houses a variety of items from a first edition copy of “Ulysses” from 1922 to a bill of sale for a 12-year -old slave named Elijah.
Unlike many other universities, University Libraries at Tech can be visited by the public most of the time.
Special Collections is hosting an open house series each first Tuesday of the month. The department is opening its doors to display materials, teach the public how the department operates and give tours.
Special Collections’ archivists are also on-hand to tell their favorite stories and answer any questions that the public may have. Additionally, the department hopes students will drop by to find out how their department can help with a project, an assignment or class.
The department will have two more open house dates which are slated for April 3 and May 1. Each open house will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Newman Library.
“Historically, these kinds of departments were curatorial and reserved for scholars,” said director Aaron Purcell.
But, the department wants to stress that their collection is open to the public, and they encourage everyone to enjoy the archives.
“Anyone from the community is welcome to come and view our materials during our normal hours or by appointment,” said archives assistant Jennifer Mitchell. “It seems as though people think that once materials are in an archives they are never seen from or heard from again, but that’s not the case.”
The Special Collections department collects and preserves materials so they will remain accessible for future generations of researchers, Mitchell added.
The department has collections from culinary history, speculative fiction, university history, science and technology, local and regional studies, International Archives of Women in Architecture and even the American Civil War.
For Processing and Acquisitions archivist Kira Dietz, it’s about making connections.
“When someone picks up a cookbook and says, ‘My mother had this!’ or flips through an old ‘Bugle’ and finds a picture of their grandfather that makes them laugh, I can’t help but smile,” Dietz said.
Archivists are on stand-by as visitors peruse the collection. Each archivist can offer up their favorite stories from the archives, or inform visitors about a piece from the collection they’re interested in.
“I like giving people a chance to interact with history by touching a document from the 19thcentury or smelling a book from the 15th century,” Dietz said. “How we write to other people and how we make books today are very different from the way we did those same things in the past and there is something to be gained from seeing those differences up close and in person.”
It’s that kind of accommodating atmosphere that Purcell hopes to create between archivists, students, professors and the general public.
“You may see a group of undergraduates arriving for an instructional session, or a group of middle school students working on a project, or even a genealogist searching for their roots,” Purcell said.
“It is a vibrant place for research and we want to not only protect the university’s treasures, but to share them with the world.”
For more information about Special Collections, visit their website spec.lib.vt.edu or call 231-6803.
The Roanoke Times | 381-8627
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