BEYOND THE BOOKS.
CORRECTION (ran 3/15/05): The largest gift to date made to the University of Oregon Knight Library's Special Collections and University Archives was a $1.4 million endowment from Richard and Mary Corrigan Solari. A story on Page G1 on Sunday left out the couple's last name.
You could carry it all right out of the Knight Library's front doors, haul it across East 13th Avenue, across the University of Oregon campus, past the Douglas firs by Deady and Villard halls and onto Franklin Boulevard, line it up side-by-side and it would probably stretch halfway up the McKenzie River along Highway 126, James Fox says.
More than 400,000 photographs. Rare books. The diary of a young girl along the Oregon Trail. Clay tablets more than 4,000 years old. Mementos of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Ken Kesey's original manuscript for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."
It's all here, part of the UO Knight Library's Special Collections archive. An estimated $50 million to $100 million worth of stuff donated and collected over the years, mostly used by undergraduates working on research projects.
"We have a tremendous responsibility," says Fox, curator of the library's Special Collections and University Archives. "This is the history of this state. It is turning into some degree of a business for us, and we need to be aware of that. But our main mission here is a cultural and scholarly one."
The business part comes from the sale of digital photographs and the time-consuming work of carefully scanning the mostly black-and-white photos, many of them glass-plate negatives between 75 and 125 years old, into the digital archive. About 5,200 historic images are now available on the UO's Web site. Mostly the revenue just pays for the cost of providing the service, Fox says, and for maintaining it, to make sure it's all here 200 years from now. The Special Collections and University Archives program operates mostly on donations, anything from $10 to $100,000 to endowments in the $1 million range, although those are rare. Most come from alumni, with about 75 gifts made during any given year, Fox says. The largest gift to date was a $1.4 million endowment from Richard and Mary Corrigan Solari.
"It's our way, in a sense, of returning their history to them," he says of UO alumni, native Oregonians and anyone else who might come looking. Maybe someone seeks a picture of grandpa playing football for the Ducks back in 1932. Or maybe a huge media conglomerate such as Time/Life needs a photo for a documentary. Or a newspaper needs an image for a story. Quite often, the seeker is simply a student looking for something for a class project.
History in the making
The library's Special Collections began in the UO's history department in the 1940s to preserve scholarly papers, Fox says. It soon outgrew the department and was transferred to the library toward the end of the decade.
Back then, alumni and friends of the UO would mostly give items to the collections, but not so much anymore, says Fox, a slight man with friendly dark eyes who often finds himself negotiating fair prices for rare and expensive collections that would significantly enhance the archive.
Fox has worked in several big-time university libraries, from such Ivy League schools as Yale and Columbia, to the University of Michigan, and he was the rare books librarian at the UO from 1988 to 1992 before returning in his present position in 2000. "And I can clearly say that our collection (at the UO) is as good as any."
The Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room is on the second floor in the front of the library in a high-ceilinged room with lots of natural light streaming in through tall windows. This space within the library's original, north-facing facade was the reading room when the library was built in 1937.
But it's what's tucked away on the library's third floor, much of it unknown to the general public, that really stimulates the inner historian.
'Bye, bye, Bhagwan'
Because so much of it is considered priceless, you won't find the really fascinating stuff splayed across the long wooden tables in the Special Collections reading room. You have to ask for it. The trick is knowing what's there in the first place.
Who knew about the competing Bhagwan necklaces, one made of wood - and worn by followers of the former commune leader, Bhagwan Shree Raj- neesh, who formed his own city in Central Oregon in the 1980s - and one made of bullets and worn by his dissenters in the nearby town of Antelope?
Go to the UO's Web site and click on "libraries," do a search on the Bhagwan, and you won't find the necklaces, but you'll find a category called "Rajneesh artifacts" that lists most everything in the collection, including coins that were made in Antelope that say "Bye, Bye, Bhagwan" on one side and show the Indian master flying away on a magic carpet.
Instincts tell the visitor to be extra careful when turning the pages of 17-year-old Abigail Scott Duniway's journal, written along the Oregon Trail as her family traveled west from Illinois in 1852. Page 26 tells of the day of her mother's death from illness on June 20.
` ... mourning over the sickness and death of our beloved mother ... this afternoon between four and five o'clock her wearied spirit took its flight ...'
For true writing fans, nothing gives goose bumps like holding the yellowed, type-written pages - complete with proofreading marks - of Kesey's "Cuckoo's Nest" manuscript, his seminal novel published in 1962.
"That's an amazing piece of Americana," Fox says. The library is storing the manuscript for Kesey's widow, Faye, while she decides whether to give more of his papers and archives to the university, he says.
Cone-shaped tablets, made of ancient clay and dating to about 2000 B.C., seem like they might crumble if handled. Fox does so wearing soft, white gloves. Written in the ancient Middle Eastern language of Akkadian, the tablets reveal details of life and customs during biblical times.
'Where else does that happen?'
Fox, who also teaches a course in the UO's Honors College called "The History of the Book," loves to see the excitement in students' eyes when they hold a 1,000-year-old manuscript. "Where else does that happen," Fox says, other than in a university library?
Sometimes, it's a newer item that piques a student's interest. On the first day of March, graduate student Liz Deck sat in the reading room and pored over old documents from the Salem landscape architectural firm of Lord & Schryver.
"It's fabulous," Deck says of what she's finding in the records. She's particularly fascinated with the intimate history of the firm's Edith Schryver, which contained "the books that she read, the movies that she went to ...'
Sometimes, Fox says, "it can just be a note in a margin that sets somebody off."
Across the room, at another table, a woman works intensely on a project about legendary UO track and field coach Bill Bowerman. In addition to papers and books about the man, the digital archive in the photo collection titled, "Athletics & the Academy: The History of Sports at the University of Oregon," contains all sorts of Bowerman images and provides a glimpse into UO history.
Fox calls them "gateway images," these online photographs for all to see.
"We've designed them as an entry point to let people know we've got them," explains Carol Hixson, head of the university library's metadata and digital services.
In a temperature-controlled room on the third floor of the library, image after image sits upright in cases holding glass-plate negatives, the first mass-produced, ready-to-use film made available to photographers in the late 19th century. Several drawers say "Atkeson," as in Ray Atkeson, arguably the greatest photographer and historian Oregon has ever known. Fox hopes to gather more photos from the late Atkeson's family to add to the collection, he says.
Security at the library is continuously being upgraded with better locks, motion detectors and alarm systems, Fox says. The UO, he hopes, learned its lesson in 1987 when $662,000 worth of rare books and 19th century documents were stolen. The thief, Steven Blumberg, was arrested in Iowa three years later for stealing $10 million to $20 million worth of historic items from university libraries across the country. Most of the items stolen from the UO were eventually returned.
Fox says he worries more about a fire or an earthquake.
'Save your e-mail'
In another low-ceilinged room where old pipes run above the aisles, more treasure awaits. Fox pulls out a skinny drawer holding an original print drawn by Willy Pogany, a top illustrator of children's books in the 1930s and 1940s whose works include "Gulliver's Travels" and "The Thief of Baghdad." Several drawers of Pogany's works are stacked one upon the other.
"Look at that!" Fox exclaims, removing the thin paper that covers a fantastical drawing of a boy on a horse crossing a thin bridge into some otherworldly looking city. "That's an original print. Isn't that wild? Isn't that wild?"
The staff of Special Collections and University Archives at the Knight Library meets weekly to discuss possible future collections, Fox says. Newspaper obituaries are read and letters are written to families that might have something to offer.
The sad thing about the current state of archives in the 21st century is that we're losing much of it every day, Fox says. Great writers and thinkers of today send easily discarded e-mail, not letters.
"Save your e-mail," Fox says. And although digitizing photographs might make filing them easier, what if they are deleted?
"It's a disaster waiting to happen," Fox says.
That's how he has to think, because his job is to make sure the world of today is here for studying and causing wonder in 500 years.
"I have the best job in the state," he says. "Every day is a treasure hunt."
To see what's available for browsing in the Special Collections archive at the University of Oregon's Knight Library, go online at www.uoregon.edu, click on "Libraries," then "About the Libraries," and then "Special Collections" under the "Collections" heading.
There are about 5,200 photos on a digital archive for the public to order. Go to www.uoregon
.edu and click on "Libraries," and then "Digital Collections." For prices, go to libweb.uoregon.edu/speccoll/rates.html.
The Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room at the Knight Library is open during the following hours:
Monday through Friday:10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Saturdays:11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Call346-1907 to verify hours as they may change depending on school term and breaks.
An original print from William "Willy" Pogany, a top illustrator of children's books in the 1930s and 1940s, shows his interpretation of what the 1934 movie set for "Wonder Bar" should look like. Archive includes Ken Kesey's original manuscript for "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," published in 1962. Above: A man identified as Yakima Canutt rides a bucking horse in a photograph by Ralph Russell. Photo from Pendleton shows "Poker Jim, chief of the Round Up." Left: A group of Native Americans catches fish at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River in a photograph from the Special Collections archive.
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|Title Annotation:||Higher Education; A treasure-trove of history awaits those who look further than the card catalog at the UO's library|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Mar 13, 2005|
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