Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tour of Special Collections at Weber State University's Stewart Library

Recently, I visited Utah where I had the great fortune of touring some of the largest and most interesting collections I've seen yet. It required a bit of driving in some cases, but it was more than worth the trip to meet the very friendly and knowledgeable archivists and curators who work with these materials. The next few tours on this blog will feature special collections and archives from that Utah trip.

Background on the Area and the School
Weber State University (WSU) sits in the foothills of the gorgeous Wasatch Mountains about 40 minutes north of Salt Lake City, in Weber County in a town called Ogden. Weber County and the Weber River, which flows throughout the Wasatch and Unita Mountains and drains into the Great Salt Lake, are named for fur trapper John Henry Weber.

Ogden, like many of the towns and cities in Utah, was settled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Individual LDS congregations are called "wards." When there are more than three wards in a geographical area, they are grouped into "stakes." In the early 1850s, when Weber County was being settled, the Mormon church designated the area as "Weber Stake of Zion." Later, when the school was founded in 1889, it was named Weber Stake Academy and served the local area with religious and secular education.

During the early 20th century, the school became Weber College, and in 1933, the LDS transferred ownership to the state of Utah. Weber College became a 4-year university in 1964, and finally, in 1991 was renamed Weber State University. (Sources for the preceding paragraphs: WSU in-depth History page) and MormonWiki.com.)

From Weber State University Special Collections

About the Archivist
It is my pleasure to introduce Sarah Langsdon, the Associate Curator of Special Collections at WSU. She has been at WSU for 12 years and previously served in the archives at Utah State University (another school I'll showcase in an upcoming tour). Like many of the archivists and curators I've spoken with, Sarah started as a student worker in the archives and found that she had a "knack" for the profession. "It allowed me to use my love of history and preserve the local history of Ogden and the surrounding areas," she says. Her masters in History as well as on the job training, conferences, and workshops keep Sarah sharp and in touch with the field.

Sarah's favorite collections at WSU are the Rich Diaries and the diaries in the Dee Family Collection. She explains, "I like them because they give such a glimpse into Ogden’s history from 1900 to the 1960s. These women were all prominent members of Ogden’s society and attended the major events in the city. They also give insight into the goings-on in their husbands' chosen professions." For a detailed look into the Rich Diaries, see WSU's digital collection here.

Below is a photo of Sarah holding one of Emily Almira Cozzens Rich's diaries from 1926.

From Weber State University Special Collections

"I also love the mug shots we have of three prostitutes arrested in the 1940s in Ogden. These help illustrate the seedy side of Ogden’s history," she says.

About the Collections
WSU Special Collections, established in 1971, collects materials that document Ogden, Weber, and Davis Counties specifically, and Northern Utah generally. Three full-time staff, one student worker, and one hourly worker care for the 45,000 books and 2,000 linear feet of records. This summer, Sarah will be receiving a donation of an additional 1,100 linear feet from the Utah Construction Company archives. Utah Construction, its predecessors, and successors (prior to merging with GE) comprise the lion's share of the holdings and is the collection that has had the greatest impact upon the patrons. "The Utah Construction Company collection has opened us to international research and users. With the vast construction and mining projects the company completed from 1900-1976, we have had requests from Australia, Peru, Canada, and all over the United States," says Sarah. Utah Construction is probably best known for building the Hoover Dam, and the collection documents the building of the dam in a few different ways. Visually speaking, some of the more interesting items in the collection include is the scrapbooks from the 1930s. They can be viewed online here.

The portion of the collection shown below will be moved to a much larger space that will accommodate the new donation as well. Sarah had processed the collection, which arrived in 1999 and opened to research in 2001. Having dealt with less-than-ideal conditions in my own work, I sympathized with her when she told me how it arrived. "The archivist didn't pack the records, the movers did," she says. In some cases, that meant the records were "dumped" into boxes.

From Weber State University Special Collections

To see Sarah's register (think finding aid) on the collection, click this link for the PDF.

Along with Utah Construction, WSU's most popular collections are Ogden Prisoners of War (POWs), WWI collections, and photos of historic homes and businesses. Some of the most fascinating materials came from the Ogden Defense Depot. The materials that weren't sent to the National Archives were sent to WSU.

When they cleaned out the Ogden Defense Depot, they found the WWII Italian and German POW photos. Hundreds of them. A portion has been digitized, and the images illustrate the conditions in the camps in amazing detail. Even more telling are the oral histories taken of the POWs' wives. Below is a snippet of the project's description found in each oral history's opening pages:

The Ogden Defense Depot, designated as a POW camp on October 11, 1942, was one of the first ten camps in the country. An estimated 5,000 Italian prisoners and approximately 4,000 German prisoners were sent to the facility. The prisoners worked in local warehouses, farms, and orchards. After Italy surrendered in 1943, Italian Service Units were created which allowed the Italians greater freedom than the Germans, including visits to downtown Ogden. The camp closed during the summer of 1946 after the 10,000 prisoners were shipped home.

This project contains interviews from people who had interaction with the Italian and German POWs, including the community of Weber County and POW widows. They discuss the daily lives of the prisoners which includes conditions at the camp, work related issues, and the feelings of the community surrounding the POW camp.

I highly recommend visiting the World Wars and Weber County web pages. The digitized materials are nothing short of fascinating. For example, there are WWI service cards for each person from Weber County who served.

Within the collections is Ted Littlefield's WWI diary (shown below). WSU also has his correspondence during that period. Ted was the father of Ed Littlefield, a driving force as principal officer at Utah Construction and later on the board of GE, after the merger.

From Weber State University Special Collections

Sarah and I talked a little about the importance of diaries to special collections (see the short video below).

Although diaries are in the form of books (in most cases), we think of them as manuscripts because they are unpublished materials. In the case of rare books (or scarce books), these are published volumes that are difficult for collectors to find (especially in a given geographical area). That rough definition spans a wide array of materials over a long time period. For instance, WSU holds a Bible from 1578 (shown below).

From Weber State University Special Collections

The school also holds a first edition Book of Mormon (shown below).

From Weber State University Special Collections

Which is rarer? It's going to depend on who you ask. But, the first edition Book of Mormon is considered to be very rare because there was a rash of thefts of the book in the 1990s. Consequently, WSU keeps theirs (and that early printed Bible) in a safe (below) within a vault.

From Weber State University Special Collections

The WSU Special Collections also include a variety of other items including objects and textiles such as the lace (immediately below) and the linen embroidered handkerchiefs (below) donated by the prominent Becraft family of Ogden.

From Weber State University Special Collections

From Weber State University Special Collections

WSU also holds maps and beautiful architectural drawings like the ones below from the Ogden Iron Works from the 1930s. The second photo is a drawing of the water meter cap they designed. The school received a donation of three map cases worth of the Iron Works' drawings.

From Weber State University Special Collections

From Weber State University Special Collections

Although I've touched on a just a handful of WSU's holdings, there are a few other gems that deserve some attention. Sarah says, "I think our most underutilized collections are our those of the different women’s clubs in Ogden. These women were savers and documented their histories through scrapbooks, minute books, and correspondence. They also helped shape the history of Ogden through their charitable activities. Other important ones are our personal or family history collections. Sometimes the history of a local person can really highlight bigger concepts by showing how events affected one person or family."

Also of importance are WSU's special collections exhibits. Running now until August 1 is the “Say Little, Do Much: St. Benedict’s School of Nursing 1947-1968” exhibit. According to Sarah, "the exhibit documents through photographs and oral history quotes, the history of the nursing school and its alumni."

Additionally, WSU Special Collections is preparing a 40th anniversary event to occur in October. It will include exhibits highlighting 40 years of collecting along with a lecture on Ogden’s historic 25th Street.

Sarah and her colleagues at WSU have digitized an impressive amount of their collections so that users will have increased access to those materials. I hope that you will visit the links I have included above to learn more about their holdings, and be inspired to see WSU's Special Collections in Ogden in person.

Contact Information
Interested users and donors should contact

Sarah Langsdon
Associate Curator of Special Collections
Stewart Library
Weber State University
2901 University Circle
Ogden, UT 84408-2901

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