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Graduate Students Discover Special Collections & University Archives

Posted 02/22/2018


Rod Library houses thousands of rare, valuable, and delicate books, manuscripts, and institutional records that are available for students to use. Unfortunately, these valuable primary resources are underutilized by students because they can be difficult to find and can seem intimidating or confusing to beginning researchers.

Jaycie Vos, special collections coordinator and university archivist, has recently begun an extensive effort to make the items housed in Special Collections & University Archives (SC&UA) more easily accessible for students. Manuscripts and University Archives materials in SC&UA are discoverable through finding aids, which are documents that provide contextual information and often contain inventories of materials within a given collection. Currently, some finding aids for collections in SC&UA are inconsistent, outdated, and can be confusing. To solve this problem and make the items more discoverable for students, Vos has set out to create new, standardized finding aids. Because SC&UA has hundreds of collections, Vos decided to begin a collaboration with the Department of History to not only help her develop these new finding aids more quickly but also to teach students about how to effectively use finding aids to locate primary resources for research projects.Student looking through archive materials

With the help of Assistant Professor Mike Childers from the Department of History, Jaycie Vos worked with a class of graduate students to begin the creation of these new finding aids. Through this collaboration, the students were able to help Vos in creating some of the hundreds of new finding aids that will help library users to more easily locate the primary resources they’re looking for. Beyond assisting the staff of Special Collections & University Archives, the students also learned many skills that will help them in their future research projects.

Mike Childers, assistant professor, Department of History

"Getting students into Special Collections not only opens their eyes to the richness of history in their very backyard, but provides practical hands-on experiences on doing history. By drafting a finding aid, they also understand how archives work, and depth of historical sources available.”

For many students, this was their first time in Special Collections & University Archives, and the experience taught them about what SC&UA offers them as graduate students.Three students looking through a book in Special Collections & University Archives

Brandi Smith, graduate student, history

"This process of putting together a finding aid is so important for history graduate students to learn. By having students do this, it forces them to actually go to archives, learn how to work with primary sources, and talk to archivists; something which many of the people in the class have not had to do before this assignment.”

Potentially one of the most impactful outcomes of this assignment was seeing students from the class continue to use Special Collections & University Archives for the research that they are completing in other courses.

Jeremiah Brockman, graduate student, history

"I’m still in here because I found something that I can use for my master’s thesis. The archives give me a lot more primary sources that aren't available in the newspaper archives or the New York Times or really even any of the books that are on the stacks.”

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