Purdue Libraries commemorates 100th anniversary of Special Collections with exhibit

August 16, 2013  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University Libraries is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the creation of its Special Collections through a special exhibit on display through Dec. 30.

The exhibit, in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center on the fourth floor of Stewart Center's Humanities, Social Science and Education Library, traces the history and growth of the special collections. It showcases some of the earliest items collected on Purdue history and more recent acquisitions as collecting priorities have been established.

Organized by former Purdue librarian William Hepburn in 1913, Special Collections was part of his vision for a new library facility designed to fulfill his philosophy for a student-centered approach, focus on faculty research and continued community outreach. When Hepburn joined Purdue in 1904, the library was located in shared spaces with other departments and classrooms in University Hall. The space was crowded, with inadequate seating and collections space, and was seen more as a warehouse than a library. Hepburn envisioned a stand-alone library facility for Purdue that would serve as a center for learning and enhance the university's teaching and research mission. He increased circulation and use of the library, and in 1911 the Indiana legislature appropriated $100,000 for building Purdue's first library building.

After several years of effort, Purdue's new library was dedicated on June 10, 1913. Purdue President Winthrop Stone, Indiana state librarian D.C. Brown and Hepburn spoke at the dedication of the new facility.  In his address, Brown praised the new library and called on Purdue to create a strong research library to promote scholarship, the love of learning, and democracy. When Hepburn's turn came, he called on alumni to contribute their papers and publications, in effect announcing the creation of the first collecting effort for what would eventually become known as Archives and Special Collections.

Although Purdue library leaders began collecting papers of alumni and faculty following the creation of the new library building in 1913, Special Collections was not established as a distinct unit until 1978, when space became available in Stewart Center. Some of the earliest collections include the personal papers and libraries of two of Purdue's noted authors, Board of Trustees member Charles Major and alumnus George Ade. Selections from their collections are on display as well as rare books designed by acclaimed typographer and alumnus Bruce Rogers and the Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoon created by alumnus John T. McCutcheon. The first Purdue thesis, written by Charles Bohrer in 1876 on the physiological effects of beer, is included in the exhibit alongside other early Purdue documents such as a football game ticket and score card from 1893 and programs documenting the short-lived Purdue Circus. Other artifacts of Purdue student life, such as dance cards and clothing, are included, giving a sense of how student life and culture are documented in the collections.

Select items from the collections of two of Purdue's most recognized women, Amelia Earhart and Lillian Gilbreth, also are showcased. Visitors will have the rare opportunity to see former staff member Earhart's flight helmet and a model created by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth as part of their pioneering motion study work. The Gilbreths' lives were featured in the book and film "Cheaper By the Dozen," and their papers are among the most frequently requested collections by researchers.

In many ways the evolution of the special collections mirrors the institution itself, highlighting the accomplishments of the people who have contributed to Purdue's history as faculty, staff or students. Since 2005 the Archives and Special Collections has strategically focused its collecting efforts on areas of distinction for Purdue as a land grant institution, including engineering, science, agriculture, and business. Collecting initiatives such as the Susan Bulkeley Butler Women's Archives and the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Archives are part of the exhibit. Some of the most recent acquisitions, such as a checklist used by alumni astronaut Neil Armstrong for landing on the moon and a glove worn by alumni astronaut Eugene Cernan, the last person to walk on the moon, are available for viewing.

In 2009, the University Archives was formally established with a resolution signed by then President France Cordova to ensure that the documentation of Purdue's growth, changes and accomplishments are preserved. Today, many of the important documents and images capturing the activities of Purdue faculty, staff, and students are in digital form. Archives and Special Collections is acquiring born digital records and personal papers that tell the story of Purdue's past. This includes archiving important content on university websites such as electronic publications and Board of Trustees minutes to ensure that the important activities happening today are not lost to future researchers of Purdue history. A video demonstrating work with these news types of collections is included in the exhibit.

Source: Sammie Morris, 765-494-2905, morris18@purdue.edu 

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