By Rachel Vinciguerra
Almost one academic year after the creation of the Beeghly Family Special Collections Reading Room, staff say students are making use of the unique sources in Ohio Wesleyan’s archives.
The renovation project to create the Special Collections Reading Room was created by a donation from the Beeghly family and completed in time for this year’s fall semester. In a joint statement made in December 2011, the Beeghly family said they hoped the room would allow for easier access and increased usage of the special and rare books collections.
The Special Collections are divided into three areas: Archives of Ohio United Methodism, the Ohio Wesleyan Historical Collection and the Rare Books and Artifacts Collection. Each of these collections has an archivist or librarian that maintains them.
Carol Holliger, the archivist for the Archives of Ohio United Methodism, said she largely works with church researchers outside of the university, but also spends time working with students on specific religious projects.
“I work frequently with OWU students who are writing papers that directly or indirectly involve UMC (United Methodist Church) history,” she said. “I am able to help students find unique primary sources for their papers.”
Holliger said she gives tours for Dr. Blake Michael’s REL 410 course and works with work-study students on the library science track.
“Mentoring students is an enjoyable part of my work,” she said.
Bernard Derr, librarian for the rare books, artifacts and manuscripts, said many donated items have been given to the collection with the understanding that they will contribute to the educational mission of the university. Like Holliger, Derr said training students is a big part of that mission.
“For instance, at the present time, (senior) Rose Moller-Jacobs is finishing her second year of work with the conservation of our most valuable books, by building state-of-the art clam shell boxes at which she has become a real expert,” Derr said.
Derr said he works with a few students on projects ranging from scanning pages of Walt Whitman’s scrapbook to reorganizing and packing the collection of African artifacts.
According to Derr the Rare Books and Artifacts Collection serves a primarily educational purpose. he said classes often come in to view artifacts tracing the evolution of writing from cuneiform, to clay tablets, to papyrus, to medieval manuscripts. He said the second-most popular collection is the Walt Whitman collection.
Derr said much of the material is also accessible online. Fine Arts Professor Jeff Nilan digitized the collection of photographs of the American West, and Humanities and Professor Patricia DeMarco digitized a medieval prayer book.
Emily Gattozzi, librarian and curator of the Ohio Wesleyan University Historical Collection, said Special Collections prioritizes research by those with university connections.
“It’s part of the historical collection’s mission statement to make the research of OWU students, faculty, staff and alumni a priority,” she said.
Gattozzi said she enjoys working with students who come in to research a topic that interests them. One of the projects she said she often works on with students is digitization of collections featuring their unique scholarship.
“I love how digital collections can raise awareness of an institution’s unique materials and provide 24/7 access to things people may not be able to use in person because of distance,” she said.
Gattozzi said one of the things she especially loves about her job is learning more about topics researchers need help with.
Holliger agreed, saying that she feels like a detective searching for clues.
“The ‘detective’ aspect of my work is great fun,” she said. “I love looking for answers to obscure questions, following the trail of primary resource materials where they lead.”
In such a large collection, there is much to look for. The Archives of Ohio United Methodism includes closed church records, manuscript diaries and correspondences, periodicals, books, artifacts, photographs and local church history files.
Holliger said two of the special items in the collection include a riding cane and letters owned by the founder of United Methodism, John Wesley.
The Ohio Wesleyan Historical Collection houses the full run of “The Transcript,” “Le Bijou” and the OWU Magazine, as well as photo albums, student departmental honors papers and blueprints.
The Rare Books and Artifacts collection houses items like autographed copies of Walt Whitman’s books to illuminated manuscripts.
Despite the wide array of materials and high accessibility, many students still do not know what the Special Reading Room is.
Most students asked about the topic did not know of the glass room on the second floor of Beeghly Library.
One student who did was sophomore Emma Goetz, who said she accessed the collections to find information about Kappa Alpha Theta, of which she is a member, for Heritage Day next year.
She said she looked through a file with archival articles about Kappa Alpha Theta from “The Transcript.”
Goetz said she also looked through old scrapbooks and yearbooks for information.
“I found pictures of Thetas all the way back to the early ‘20s,” she said.
Goetz said the librarians were very helpful and she enjoyed the time she spent in Special Collections.
All three librarians and archivists said they encourage students to contact them with any interest they have in using the collections, as the OWU community is often their priority.
Holliger said materials in the archives are unique and intended for research purposes.
“The items located in the archives are rare, one-of-a-kind materials that cannot be replaced,” she said.
“In order to protect them for the use of future researchers, great care needs to be taken to make sure materials are not removed or damaged by users. But the security measures (such as signing in and showing identification) are not meant to keep students out.”
Derr agreed. While preservation is critical to the maintenance of the collection, he said, the ultimate purpose is accessibility.
“Most importantly, it is to make these things available inside and outside the OWU community, to students and to scholars,” he said.