The archivist’s world –– at WestConn
By Irene Sherlock
In the three years since he’s been here, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Brian Stevens has been organizing and cataloguing the minutia that encompasses WestConn’s history.
Tucked into the basement of the Ruth A. Hass library on the Midtown campus, the department of archives and special collections now includes 3,274 titles. “We have material dating from as far back as 1615,” Stevens says, noting that in addition to books and articles, the department houses administrative records, faculty papers, school publications, visual materials and other media created by the university. “We also have original works from the Danbury Normal School's library,” Stevens says.
Holdings also include items not affiliated with WCSU, such as local government and organizational records, visual materials, maps, journals and other media that document the history of the Danbury region.
“Former Danbury Mayor Dyer is in the process of donating his personal and professional papers to us,” says Stevens, referring to James (Jimmy) Dyer ’72. “We have books written by faculty, students and alumni, and a number of rare and antique books, articles and other objects that have been donated to the school.”
Perhaps, like this writer, you’ve wondered what exactly constitutes “archival” material as opposed to that which ends up in special collections.
“Generally, archival materials are unpublished or one-of-a-kind items,” Stevens says. “These could be yearbook photos, personal correspondence, department records or faculty notes used to research a book.” Published works like books are relegated to the Special Collections Library. For the archival collections, he explains, “Our job is to create a story through someone else’s possessions. We then generate a context and link the work to the larger history of school.”
Stevens, who earned a Master of Library Science from The Pratt Institute, worked as an analyst for the Archivists’ Toolkit Project at New York University before coming to WestConn.
When he arrived his foremost mandate was to provide Web access to descriptions of the archival collections so they could be searched easily online. “When I got here, there were no collection descriptions online for the archives and little in the way of digital material. Early on, I was asked to supply a photo of (Emeritus Professor of Meteorology) Dr. Mel (Goldstein). We had boxes of photographs. I didn’t know where to start.”
Lucky for Stevens, assistant archivist and alumna Mary Reike ’94, who has worked at the university since she graduated, brings a wealth of first-hand information to the job. “We did find several Dr. Mel photographs and I still rely on Mary now and again to fill in some blanks about WestConn’s history.”
In addition to meeting with people who wish to donate memorabilia and other valuables to the university, the department is always ready to help with a number of other things. “Every year for Homecoming, we’re asked to research a particular graduation year,” he says. Or maybe someone has lost their 1954 yearbook and longs to photocopy a page from their past. But for the most part, says Stevens, the department is a resource for historians, students and researchers who want to tap into the university’s warehouse of information.
Did you know you can peruse online what’s available in our Marjorie Echols Local Artists Collection? Maybe you’d like to examine source material on Connecticut Women Suffrage (1876-1982). Civil War buffs may be interested to know they can read the war journal of Connecticut native Horace Purdy. Or perhaps you’d be interested in recordings owned by former WestConn Professor of Music James Furman. Last year, the department received a donation of rare books from the Brooklyn Historical Society that pertain to the genealogy of Connecticut. The collections also house online interviews conducted to commemorate WCSU’s centennial.
“Truman Warner’s is still our most popular digitized collection,” Stevens says. A former professor of anthropology, Warner was a long-time teacher at WestConn and a board member and former president of the Scott-Fanton Museum, now known as the Danbury Museum and Historical Society. The Warner collection consists primarily of newspaper clippings relating to local history, as well as writings, photographs and other material documenting his life as a WWII medic, author, historian and historical researcher. Warner Hall, on the Midtown campus, bears his name.
“There’s also a lot of interest in (Professor Emeritus of History) Herb Janick,” Stevens says. The Janick Collection focuses on research for his book written to commemorate WestConn’s centennial.
Last year, alumnus Sean Pelletier ’09, now earning a degree in library science at Southern Connecticut State University, spent months digitizing the recorded interviews of Jack Friel. In 1976, Friel was commissioned by the WestConn Foundation to write an oral history of the school. A former graduate student at what was then Danbury State College, Friel only partially completed his project, which includes interviews with Warner, Ruth Haas and a student from the class of 1910.
“What’s important for posterity?” Stevens says. “How is this item of value to the university? These are questions we ask ourselves every day.”
To access WestConn’s archives, go to library.wcsu.edu/web/about/units/archives/