My Second Year in Review

It’s the end of the academic year at Southwestern, and in the spirit of transparency, and to continue this annual series — here’s my accounting of what Special Collections did in the 2016/2017 academic year.

First, I want to shout from the rooftops of the internet my thanks and gratitude for my colleagues in Special Collections, who are an essential, valuable, and integral part of all of this work. Doreen Prevots, my office neighbor and right hand; Emily Higgs, our intern from the University of Texas’ iSchool; Natalia Kapacinskas, English major, entering her senior year at Southwestern; Isabel Mandelbaum, History major; and Catherine Staskawicz, English major. We are also very fortunate to have two volunteer conservators: Anne Veerkamp and Heather Hamilton. I’ll recognize their contributions below.


Portal to Texas History Metadata : We are working to improve and standardize the metadata we provide for physical materials from our collection that are digitized and added to our already existing digital surrogates in the Portal. We are commencing a more robust digitization program, and good metadata is essential to discovery of our digital surrogates, both in the Portal and in DPLA. We have several notable collections ready for description with these new guidelines, including the Michael Reed papers, and the OA Fisher papers, discussed below.

Student Training : As mentioned in my review last year, we worked to begin formalization of our student training materials. That work resulted in a libguide for new student workers, executed by Doreen Prevots. We used this new guide to train Catherine and Isabel this past fall, and intend to use and revise it going forward.

Latina History Project : Along with Brenda Sendejo, we continue to expand and add to the Latina History Project, which examines the Chicano/a experience in Central Texas. Emily Higgs is working to digitize the paper materials related to the project (donated by Mary Visser) and to add the original oral history interviews done by Visser to begin this project to the Omeka site. Dr. Sendejo will be talking about the project this summer at the annual conference of the American Library Association. The LHP is also an important part in our efforts to have our collection of Texana reflect the experiences and stories of all Texans.

Basic Texas Books Census : Natalia and volunteer Elissa Graham completed our census of Jenkins’ Basic Texas Books, and were able to update the list of materials we have from this key work. Also a result is that we have a list of what we miss from Jenkins, which we will work to fill through acquisitions.

Acquisition Highlights

In the 2016–2017 academic year, we acquired through gift or purchase 88 items. I want to highlight what I think are some of the most significant acquisitions of this past year.

Vertrag zwischen dem Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas und dem Auswanderer. Special Collections, Southwestern University, Edward A. Clark Collection, 25.243 G317 v.2

A generous grant from the Brown Foundation of Houston, Texas, enabled us to acquire a collection of thirteen documents that focus on the Verein zum Schutze deutscher Einwanderer in Texas (Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas), also known as the Adelsverein, which organized and promoted German immigration to Texas in the 19th century. These materials include a contract between the Adelsverein and an emigrant (pictured), bearing the seal of the Adelsverein and the Consulate of the Republic of Texas, located in Antwerp. Also included are printed materials disseminating information about the Adelsverein, and immigrating to Texas. These materials will be scanned and digitally combined with another recent gift, the Lillian Parks Steele collection of Hoch Family Papers. These digitized materials will then be presented in a unique online exhibit, created by Emily Higgs, that will work to tell the story of 19th century German immigration to, and experience in, Texas. As a part of this process, the immigration materials — all in German — will be transcribed and translated by Doreen Prevots, Special Collections Assistant — further facilitating their use by students at Southwestern, as well as scholars worldwide. The exhibit is scheduled to be online by the end of 2017.

The Book of Jonah. Special Collections, Southwestern University 686.224 J69. Photo courtesy of Russell Maret

We have begun to collect fine press books in earnest, as well as books that enable us to better teach type and book history. To this end, we have acquired several titles by the acclaimed typographer and printer Russell Maret. Pictured here is a title we acquired last summer, Russell’s Book of Jonah. When Natalia first saw this book, she exclaimed “This is the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen!” Many other guests have had the same reaction, and the book enables us to talk about fine press and type design with viewers of the book. We also have acquired Maret’s Some Problems With Red, and Ovid on Climate Change, the last book of great interest to our classics and environmental studies departments.

[Vulgate Leaf]. Special Collections, Southwestern University 220.4 V976

Outside of our primary collecting areas, we also work to provide representative material for teaching the history of the book to undergraduates. We acquired five medieval manuscript leaves — four from a missal, and one from a bible (pictured). Thanks to Arthur Morgan for translating the pages so we could identify what they were. These leaves have the marks of creation for these materials — rubrication, pricking, flourishes and so on — enabling students to see first hand how books were produced before the advent and adoption of printing. These leaves also enable students to touch and experience the difference between parchment and vellum, and also compare those two surfaces to paper from later books, as well as the leaf we possess of the Gutenberg bible — giving a tactile experience for students interested in the history of the book.

1816 Tryon Musket. Special Collections, Southwestern University, Senator John G. Tower Collection

Thanks to the ongoing generosity of the Tower family, we are fortunate to have in our collection an 1816 Tryon Musket, pictured above. This musket, formerly on display at the Bullock State History Museum for over a decade, is one of four known to exist in their original state from the original 860 muskets purchased by the Republic of Texas in 1840. The musket is marked with the star of the Republic, and the word Texas underneath. The musket was given to Joe Z Tower, John Tower’s father, by one of Rev. Tower’s parishoners. It’s a natural fit with our strong Texan collections, and we are proud to have this significant object from the history of Texas available to the public.

Digitization Highlights

Orceneth Asbury Fisher Papers : Emily digitized the papers of OA Fisher, an agent for Rutersville College, and Methodist preacher. These papers provide a view into the life of a preacher during Republic-era Texas. These materials are currently awaiting description in the Portal.

Transcription of the Henry Matthews Diaries : Though already digitized, the diaries of Henry Matthews, a preacher, physician, and schoolteacher, are difficult for researchers to use as a digital surrogate due to Matthew’s 19th century hand and inconsistent spelling. Natalia is transcribing his diaries for inclusion in the Portal, and has also started a rather amusing Twitter account for Rev. Matthews.

Digitization of the Michael Reed Papers : Emily has also completed digitization of the Michael Reed Papers, which I discussed last year. These materials are in process at the Portal, and will be publicly available by the end of the calendar year. Emily is also engaging on the first scholarship using this collection — stay tuned for more.


Here I am with Speaker Joe Straus, and President Edward Burger, showing Speaker Straus his intern file in the John Tower Papers. Photo credit: Carlos Barron

In this past academic year, Special Collections hosted 27 class visits, totaling 518 students. Outside of those class visits, we have had 147 researchers, for a total of 665 patrons over the academic year. We served 529 books and manuscript boxes this year.

Social Media : We’ve transitioned away from tumblr as a platform, and have strongly committed to Instagram as our social media platform of choice. All of my colleagues and I contribute to our feed there, and my suspicion is that the Instagram is one of the reasons why we have seen a marked increase in usage. We have 464 followers on Instagram, which we are proud of. We also have presences on Twitter and Facebook, though we use those far less.

Exhibitions : We hosted three exhibitions in Special Collections this year, and we organized one exhibition in the larger library:

  • Fine Press Printing in Texas — I will only list this exhibit, and provide you with this link to the full description I published in late 2016.
  • Missionary Acquisition: Household Chinese Art and the John Littleberry Hendry Collection —This show was curated, designed and installed by the students of Dr. Allison Miller’s Introduction to Asian Art class. The students used objects from the Hendry Collection, which includes objects from Hendry’s time in China as a Methodist missionary there.
  • Miniature Books — Natalia curated, designed, and installed this show, and led tours of this exhibit. She chose fantastic titles, and promoted it so well that it is now the best attended exhibit we’ve ever had.
  • And we hosted two single case shows — one of our Arion Press Moby Dick, curated by Emily Higgs; and a William Blake case, curated by Catherine Staskawicz.

Upshaws of County Line — This library wide show, facilitated by alumni Rev. Milton Jordan, and coordinated by Doreen, uses the photographs of Richard Orton to tell the story of the Upshaws family in the “freedom colony” of County Line. Freedom colonies add a different narrative to the Jim Crow reality experienced by African Americans beginning in the late 19th century. Unlike most blacks, the land-owning inhabitants of County Line and other such places were able to create refuges from a dominant white culture for their families. This exhibit was in celebration of Black History Month, and another effort to work to tell the story of all Texans.

We also had a too-short day trip to visit the DeGolyer Library at Southern Methodist University. Emily, Natalia, Catherine, Isabel and I met Russell Martin, who generously gave us a look into their “back of house” operations. The highlight of the trip was meeting Jerrie and Allison V. Smith who talked about their own book collecting and the lifelong love of books that Stanley Marcus had. We are so grateful for their time, and so inspired — even a few months later! We hope to put together a visit to the Tower Center at SMU and a visit to the Bridwell in the upcoming year.


S. Fred Prince : Sarah Burke Cahalan and I have been working on the first scholarly piece about Prince for several years, and thankfully, it will be published in 2018 in the Archives of Natural History. Sarah did much of the art historical work on this, and her elegant edits are clear in the final prepublication manuscript, which you can access through this link.

Edward A. Clark : Thanks to the feedback and guidance of Ron Tyler and Larry McNeill, I am finishing edits on a paper about Ambassador Edward A. Clark, the donor of much of our Texana material. The piece will focus on his collecting and his pride in his native state, and will give a brief biography of the Ambassador.

Social Media and Special Collections Reference Works : As I alluded to last year, our now former student, Emily Grover (currently working at Tom Green County Public Library and the San Angelo Museum of Fine Art) and I worked together to write a piece about how we as a department use social media to teach our student workers how and when to use printed reference works for rare books and special collections materials. You can read this piece in the open access journal RBM, by using this link.


The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) continues to be my professional home, and I am serving the section by chairing the committee to plan the section’s program at ALA annual in Chicago, and by serving as a mentor to professionals new to the profession. Since I am chairing that group, I decided to limit my committe participation this year — but I am presenting with Diane Dias De Fazio, Jay Sylvestre, and Lauren Hewes about using Instagram in the special collections environment. We’re quite excited about our very hands on presentation in Iowa City.


It’s been a busy year in Special Collections. When I first sit down to write these reports, I feel like we haven’t done very much — and the opposite is true — especially so this year. I am proud of our really robust usage numbers, and intend to have similar numbers next year. We have a really fantastic group working in the department — who are doing really outstanding work. I am deeply grateful for my departmental and library colleagues that make this a great place to work.