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Digitizing the Past

After nearly 25 years at Southwestern, Kathryn Stallard is retiring as the University’s Director of Special Collections and Archives, but not before significantly changing the face and the future direction of the University’s collection of unique and treasured rare books and archives.

150512W_6567Stallard arrived on campus in the early 90s with an A.B. degree from The University of Illinois at Chicago, and M.A. and M.L.S. degrees from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She began her time with the A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center arranging and describing the (former Senator) John G. Tower papers. About five years later, she became the head of Special Collections and has since been “working to preserve our unique collections and to share them in meaningful ways on and off campus.”

With that in mind, in 2014, Stallard wrote the $20,000 Texas Treasures Grant, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Texas State Library and Archives. The grant allowed Special Collections to purchase an overhead scanner to digitize and make accessible to the public Southwestern’s considerable Texas history collection. The Thomas Falconer collection was the first to be digitized and includes a letter from Falconer, a British jurist and explorer, recounting his experience as part of the 1842 Santa Fe Expedition.

“Not only are we fortunate to have such extensive special collections for an institution of our size, we are fortunate to have had Kathryn at the helm stewarding these collections and enhancing access to them at the state and national levels.”Charlotte L. Nunes

Charlotte L. Nunes, Southwestern’s Mellon postdoctoral fellow in digital scholarship, collaborated on the project to create a portal to the grant project. She says, “The Digital Texas Heritage Resource Center* is a product of Kathryn Stallard’s dynamic vision for SU Special Collections. Not only are we fortunate to have such extensive special collections for an institution of our size, we are fortunate to have had Kathryn at the helm stewarding these collections and enhancing access to them at the state and national levels. Since she conceptualized and implemented a plan to connect SU Special Collections with the University of North Texas Portal to Texas History and, in turn, the Digital Public Library of America—both of which promise to raise the profile of our digital collections and increase use—her legacy will continue long after she leaves SU.”

The portal that Nunes has created includes an exhibit related to cattle queen Lizzie Johnson, the first woman to drive a herd of cattle up the Chisholm Trail. This website is a work in progress and will be continuously added to, with the hope that faculty and students will use its assets for research projects, online exhibits and more. The portal includes highlights and added content (such as the Lizzie Johnson exhibit), and links to The Portal to Texas History, which hosts all of the University’s assets.

Other staff and students who have contributed to the project include Smith Library intern Emily Russell, Visual Resources Librarian Katherine Hooker, Special Collection and Archives Assistant Doreen Prevots, and Research and Instruction Librarian Theresa Zelasko, along with Rowan Prothro ’15 and current students Emily Grover and Kaylee Meeks.

“In addition to this grant project,” says Stallard, “many of Special Collections’ accomplishments are due to the skills and commitment of support staff and student employees. No one will ever surpass Sheran Johle’s (my assistant for 20 years) knowledge of SU and Georgetown history. Another former assistant, Annie Verkamp, contributed so much to our webpage and social media, and continues to volunteer doing conservation work. And now, Doreen Prevots is providing essential support. I wish I could also personally acknowledge all the amazing SU students who have made such significant contributions to the department—exhibits, the online historical alumni directory, finding aids and so much more.”

Letter from Thomas Falconer to Alfred Austin, January 12, 1842

Letter from Thomas Falconer to Alfred Austin, January 12, 1842

Since 1997, when Stallard became the head of Special Collections, it has been her mission to create a welcoming and inviting environment for students and faculty. It has also been a goal to get items from Special Collections out into the library; out of their remote and sometimes intimidating location on the second floor. She accomplished this by writing grants in the early 2000s to the Susan Vaughan Foundation to create the now-popular library alcoves.

One alcove features the Herman Melville collection, which is on loan from a private donor. Another features the authors who have spoken at the Writer’s Voice events over the years, and is dedicated to former Dean of the Library Lynne Brody, who founded the Writer’s Voice series. There are three additional alcoves on the third floor of the library, as well as the global perspectives-themed periodicals reading room, all underwritten by the Vaughan Foundation.

“I anticipate leaving Special Collections in able and talented hands—it’s going to be a very exciting future for the department.”Kathryn Stallard

This Sumerian cuneiform clay tablet is a withdrawal for the queen Shulgi-simti dated in the 46th year of Shulgi, King of Ur.

This Sumerian cuneiform clay tablet is a withdrawal for the queen Shulgi-simti dated in the 46th year of Shulgi, King of Ur.

“Special Collections sets the library apart,” says Stallard, “and has the potential to set the University apart.” Southwestern’s archives include unique items from a cuneiform tablet that dates to 2000 B.C. to 14 nightgowns worn by Lizzie Johnson to former Senator John Tower’s papers. Stallard also says the Tower Collection in particular is an important resource for 20th century U.S. politics. Additional resources include rare books, major Texana collections, University archives, and unique and unusual artifacts from the former Mood-Heritage Museum. These collections provide a wealth of materials for Southwestern faculty members and their classes.

During Stallard’s tenure, she also initiated the creation of physical and digital exhibits, webpages, social media sites, online finding aids, and special digital projects including the digitization of back issues of the Sou’wester annual and the Megaphone, as well as the Tower-SMU collaboration and more. And for a number of students, Special Collections has provided valuable internship experiences.

As she quickly approaches retirement at the end of May, Stallard says her favorite part of her job is helping students and other researchers find something in Special Collections and seeing their excitement. “That’s the part I’ll miss most,” she says.

Looking forward, she is excited to spend more time traveling with her husband, Steve Davidson, professor of history, and visiting their daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, Max (2 ½) and Eliza (5 mos.), who live in Washington, D.C. As for the Smith Library, Stallard says, “I anticipate leaving Special Collections in able and talented hands—it’s going to be a very exciting future for the department.”

*This project is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act. (2015)


Story by Kristina Moore

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3 comments

  1. Carol Cody Herder

    I am very pleased to learn about the digitizing of the Special Collections and Archives which will facilitate access to the documents housed at Southwestern. My family’s history is intertwined with the history of Southwestern and as I research my genealogy, I am very excited about seeing the many documents that are referenced in the book, To Survive and Excel, The Story of Southwestern University 1840-2000. These are some of my family names that are a part of SU’s history: Cody, Lockett, Johnson, Vaden, Pegues, and Nichols.

  2. Samia Nasir Khoury

    Great news. Thanks Kathryn Stallard for your vision and perseverance. You will leave a great legacy at SU.

  3. Thank you for great write up on Digital collection Kathryn Stallard. You passion can be felt from the write up.

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