Archives Expand as JEC Requirement Takes Effect

Davidson College archivists pose in the library’s Rare Book Room. Their website, “Davidson College Archives & Special Collections” provides extensive college and local records to the public. Photo by Emma Brentjens ’21

By: Raven Hudson ’21

Staff Writer

Unearthed shoes, bones, and broken pieces of ceramics do not seem particularly interesting, but these items, among other artifacts, provided poets with inspiration at last Thursday’s poetry reading in celebration of National Poetry Month.

Davidson College Archives and Special Collections and the Student Library Advisory Board jointly hosted the annual event in the “fishbowl” (officially known as the Information Literacy Learning Center) of the E. H. Little Library. Previously held in the Rare Book Room, the event celebrated its ninth year. The reading invited students to bring their own original works or to write a few verses on the spot, using the artifacts found under the Sparrow’s Nest as inspiration. Last July, a renovation crew discovered the buried objects beneath the small brick building located between Vail Commons and Belk Hall.

Much like the inconspicuous Sparrow’s Nest, the Archives and Special Collections department is often an overlooked resource on campus. In trying to make its presence known to students and invite them to explore its tomes, the Archives hosts several different events throughout the year. Although many of these events occur during Archives Month in October, such as Mandolin Madness and Ghosts in the Library, the Archives also hold classes and Senior Portraits in the Rare Book Room.

In the future, according to DebbieLee Landi, the College Archivist and Records Management Coordinator, the department hopes to add a series called “An Evening with…” that will feature different specialty items in the Archives collection. The first of this series, starring artists’ books, will occur on May 9.

The idea for the series originated from one of the library’s new initiatives: the Student Library Advisory Board (SLAB). SLAB is a way for students to give “feedback and suggestions,” Landi explained, for how to improve the archives or library events. Library Information and Research Assistants—students who work at the Information Desk—and ordinary student library users compose the general members of SLAB. SLAB currently has members from all class years, and those who are interested in joining should contact James Sponsel at the beginning of the fall 2018 semester.

Additionally, the department recently hired Molly Campbell in the role of Digital Archivist. The pre-existing position, which requires a Master of Library Science degree, involves collecting and organizing the college’s digital records. Currently, Campbell is looking to move the catalog to a new program and renovate the archive’s website to make it more user-friendly. She also hopes to centralize the current digital collections and to grow the digital collections by “revisiting records management,” especially because much of the “artifacts” the college produces are now created electronically.

Moreover, the Archives is interested in documenting current events happening around the Davidson campus, since these, too, will eventually become history. To accomplish this task, archivists are looking to social media and different student activist groups on campus. “There are so many different student initiatives here,” explained Landi. “So [the issue is] trying to figure out how do we capture all that’s going on at the college.”

One such student initiative, which the department’s Justice, Equality, and Community (JEC) Archivist Jessica Cottle helped to facilitate, was the Davidson Disorientation Tour organized by HD Mellin ’20 and Evan Yi ’18. Cottle helped Mellin and Yi gather the appropriate artifacts that were on display at the end of the tour. Similarly, Cottle stated one of her future goals as JEC Archivist is to examine “student involvement with civil rights movements in the area” and to “engage students with the archival materials outside of classes.”

Cottle’s aim mirrors that of the Archives department as a whole: the desire for students to participate in curating their own histories. Especially with groups that have been recently established, like S.T.R.I.D.E. and other groups for students of color, the information available in the archives is scarce.

“I was trying to help students do research on a couple topics, and I realized we didn’t have any of these materials in the archive,” recounted Landi. The department strongly encourages student members of these underrepresented organizations to provide the missing archival materials, like meeting minutes, event records, or annual reports.

“If you notice the gaps in the record,” Cottle added. “Those are going to be gaps later if you aren’t making an effort to document those movements.”

Students are encouraged to follow and get involved with the Archives and Special Collections through their blog (libraries.davidson.edu/aroundthed), Facebook (www.facebook.com/DavidsonArchives/) , or Instagram (@davidsonarchives).

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