|Magazine of the UW-River Falls Alumni Association
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The Archives’ New Home
By Kevin Bertelsen
The late Willis Millerís decades of personal journals are among the collection in the University Archives.
Where on campus can you find Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet “Common Sense,” information about a late 1800s African American community near River Falls, or a letter written by a local soldier during the Civil War Battle of Bull Run? For decades these artifacts and materials like them have been preserved in the University Archives and Area Research Center, which until late 2009 was located in a basement corner of the Chalmer Davee Library.
Tim Ericson reviews some of the Willis Miller collection housed in the University Archives and Area Research Center.
But thanks to a move and remodel, the center has a more prominent, larger space, worthy of the treasures and resources for researchers that it holds safe. The move doubles storage and public space. In addition, the area is more secure and has a climate-controlled display for UWRF and local history artifacts and documents.
“The new center is a much improved space for customers, staff, faculty, students—really everyone—to use and work in,” says Library Director Valerie Malzacher.
The archive and center’s mission is two-fold. The archives is the official repository for UWRF’s permanent historical records, while as an Area Research Center (ARC) it provides public access to historical materials, local government records, manuscripts and special collections for Burnett, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties. In addition, it is networked with other ARCs throughout the UW System and the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.
Over the years, many people have used the center, including history buffs researching the past, students looking for project information, faculty and staff seeking records related to research or work, people researching land ownership or looking for birth certificates, as well as genealogists looking for family records.
With the Internet, the landscape for information requests is changing rapidly and the new spaces will help accommodate those needs. Staff conduct searches through the Library’s web page in response to national and international requests via e-mail or on the phone, while assisting visitors to the center with finding information they seek. Some of the collections are available electronically, while other information is only available through traditional search.
“Many, but not all, of our collections are digitized,” says Melissa Barbey, of the ongoing move toward digitization of all records and collections. Barbey is assistant archivist and coordinated the move with dozens of volunteers and UWRF staff.
Over two weeks’ time, several rooms of cataloged and non-cataloged materials were moved and reassembled into a large storage room on the other side of the library’s lower level.
The new center has a circular reception area surrounded by staff offices and a large conference room for classes and meetings. An ample public reading room adjoins the reception area. A processing room where archivists can work at cataloging collections is a welcome addition, says Barbey, and a new storage area has adequate room for organized placement and unhindered maneuvering.
Tim Ericson, who worked as the UWRF archivist from 1974 to 1984, is retired from UW-Milwaukee and volunteered his time with the move. He has since taken on the interim archivist role as former archivist Alyson Jones, who had been on maternity leave, decided to join the ranks of full-time motherhood.
“It’s been fun to return to the archives after 25 years,” says Ericson. “It was a great collection back in 1984 when I left, and it’s even better today.”
Archive staff hopes that the new space will be more customer-friendly and serve even more staff, students and community members than before. Alumni are more than welcome, Ericson says: “It’s one place you can come to campus and discover that you are still a part of it.”
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