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Campus archivists make the tough decisions on what historical artifacts to save

January 10, 2017

Items from Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives

Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives oversees thousands of items from throughout IUPUI's past, including photos, documents, emails and more, all of which tell the tale of the campus's history. | LIZ KAYE / IU COMMUNICATIONS

When IUPUI begins the celebration of its 50th anniversary in 2018, the websites, publications and other celebrations are expected to revolve around the photos, documents and other pieces of history that tell the tale of Indiana University's primary urban campus.

At the heart of those mementoes and memories are the guardians of IUPUI history, the five-member Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives team, which patiently gathers and preserves the elements that chronicle the campus's five-decade life span:

  • Associate librarian Frances A. Huehls
  • Archives specialist Greg Mobley
  • Archives specialist Denise Rayman
  • Associate university archivist Stephen E. Towne
  • Philanthropic studies archivist Angela White

Members of the Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives team.

Members of the Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives team, from left: Frances Huehls, Greg Mobley, Denise Rayman, Stephen Towne and Angela White.

Their role is vital when it comes to sharing IUPUI's legacy.

"University records create a sense of identity about a place," said Mobley. "That's especially important among students and faculty, where you get a fair amount of turnover. You want to help people understand where the university came from."

"A lot of people don't remember details about how our campus came to be," Towne added. "Records document the decisions and actions the university has taken, who was involved in them, and the alternatives that were considered. The 50th gives us an opportunity to help people -- on our campus and in our community -- learn what decisions were made, with background on other ideas that were considered, other directions that IUPUI could have taken."

Archives has a huge storage area that houses pieces of IUPUI's past.

Thousands of boxes of documents, photos, audio and video files, emails, and other items are housed in the archives' storage area inside of University Library.

To tell that evolving story, the team wants to gather, organize and chronicle as many elements of IUPUI's history as possible. Special Collections has gathered thousands of photos, documents and other historical items, but they want to enlist as many administrators, faculty, staff and students as possible to flesh out the narrative.

Much of IUPUI's history is contained within a huge storage area deep within the heart of University Library, in more than 8,000 square feet of space and more than 20,000 linear feet of shelving. Those shelves contain books, boxes of documents, official records, CDs, video and audio files, oral histories with key figures from our past, and more. All of it is painstakingly monitored and listed for future use.

The shelves even contain copies of emails from one administrator to another, one faculty member to another, and so on. In fact, emails have become a crucial tool for archivists and researchers, allowing them to glimpse inside the thoughts and ideas of the men and women who fueled IUPUI's development.

"Some people don't want to take the time to save their emails and share them with us," Towne said. "But others have been religious about saving them, along with other messages in these long chains. So we can usually find emails even from those who deleted their own notes -- and those can offer fascinating insights."

Boxes containing official documents, files, letters and more will prove helpful when IUPUI celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Each box contains pieces of campus history that will be part of IUPUI's 50th-anniversary celebration.

Meetings are ongoing in preparation for the upcoming celebrations, and the archive team hopes that preservation will be in the forefront of everyone's thoughts.

"We've gathered a lot of material through the years, but there are always other pieces of the puzzle," Mobley said. "For example, sometimes we have photos but need help identifying the people in the pictures. The people shown are part of our history, and we want our campus to remember them and their contributions."

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