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Special Collections... Where the WILD THINGS ARE


STORY BY PATRICK WILLIAMS '74
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JARED THAYNE '99

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"The jewel from the collection is a complete set of first -edition Jack London books, each inscribed to his second wife, Charmian. Forty-four volumes are there, including what might be considered London's best-known work, "Call of the Wild."

 

The Smithsonian Institution — self-proclaimed largest museum and research complex in the world — has been described as “the Nation’s Attic.” Its collections are mind-boggling: it holds 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens. There are 7.7 million digital records, 2 million library volumes and 136,194 cubic feet of archival material. That’s a pretty stuffed attic!

 

At Utah State University, treasures are not metaphorically tucked away in an attic. Rather, they are housed in the recesses of Special Collections and Archives in Merrill-Cazier Library. But SCA is not a museum. It’s an archive and repository of important and historical documents and rare books with a few artifacts thrown in for good measure. In fact, one entire room can be considered an artifact. The Hatch Memorial Library Room with its rare book collection has been an important resource for teaching and research at the university for more than 50 years, besides being a classic example of our architectural and literary pasts.

 

While it’s not a part of the Hatch Room, SCA boasts another important collection from America’s literary past, the Jack London papers. Prominent among the SCA manuscript collection, it is noted as the second largest collection of Jack London primary source material that exists, topped only by California’s Huntington Library. The collection is rich in materials with an abundance of correspondence but also includes short stories, articles, diaries, financial records and more.

 

The jewel from the collection is a complete set of first-edition Jack London books, each inscribed to his second wife, Charmian. Forty-four volumes are there, including what might be considered London’s best-known work, Call of the Wild. In addition to the inscriptions, each has a unique, personal photograph of the author.

 

The papers of Jack and Charmian Kittredge London were acquired by Utah State University during the 1960s and early ’70s, made possible through the efforts of USU English professor King Hendricks. A London scholar, Hendricks established a professional relationship with Irving Shepard, literary executor of the London estate. The pair collaborated on projects, editing the 1965 book Letters from Jack London and again in 1970 for Jack London Reports.

 

SCA manuscript curator Clint Pumphrey says the relationship was unique. If Hendricks needed a letter or other documents for his research, Shepard would often slip the original into the mail and send it to Logan, an arrangement that certainly would not take place today.

 

It was through this professional relationship that the first portion of the London collection was acquired — Mrs. London’s library — including the first editions. With the support of an anonymous donor, the first acquisition was purchased, but over the course of the decade more items were acquired and all were gifts from the Jack London estate.

 

In total, four acquisitions were made, the first in 1964 and the last in 1971. There are letters between London and his wife, as well as letters to publishers, editors and business managers. There are exchanges with literary personalities, including Sinclair Lewis, who sent London story ideas and plot outlines. London’s multiple wills are in the collection as are passports and his notebook and other materials from his time as a news correspondent covering the Russo-Japanese War.

 

While it is a highlight, the scope and range of SCA’s holdings go far beyond the London papers. Every division or department within the unit has star-quality material. Important university documents are held in the University Archives. There, the permanent historical record of the university resides, including the presidential papers from William Kerr through Kermit L. Hall. Tucked away in other areas are the treasures from decades past, including photographs and a wealth of research information where row upon row of archival boxes fill movable and permanent shelving in the basement of Merrill-Cazier Library. More can be found in digital files on the Web.

 

SCA holds 18,000 linear feet of manuscripts. Half a million photographs can be found in prints, negatives or online digital images. The book collection has 33,000 volumes and there are 20,000 thesis and doctoral dissertations documenting the work completed by USU scholars. 

 

Archivist Robert Parson has assembled An Encyclopedic History of Utah State University, an impressive summary that can be found here. From the origins of Aggie Ice Cream to the feud between USU’s foresters and engineers, the inside story of Aggie life can be found in the remarkable document.

 

There’s the Art Book and Music Collection, where the 1950s can be embraced thanks to the impressive Beat Poetry and Little Magazine collections. The Folklore Archive is among the largest repositories of American folklore in the United States. It is home to more than 40 collections, including oral histories and the fieldwork collections of Austin and Alta Fife, pioneers in the field of folklore in the West. It also houses the historical archives of the American Folklore Society.

 

State and regional information can be found in the Western and Mormon Americana section, including  books, pamphlets, serials, newspapers and more. Included are rare and historical printed materials from Mormonism’s beginning to the present. According to curator Ann Buttars, the university’s commitment to collecting in this area is longstanding; it began in 1916 with the purchase of the Eli H. Peirce collection of Western Americana with its extensive collection of books and pamphlets that mention Mormons. It was enhanced through donations of rare books by L. Boyd Hatch (the Hatch Room) during the 1940s, pioneer diaries donated by the Cache Valley Historical Society, and it continues to grow today through donations and purchases.

 

The manuscript section, in addition to holding the impressive London Collection, collects historical materials originating outside Utah State University. The geographic scope ranges from local to international, covering a wide range of topics. How wide? The section holds the personal and research documents of two prominent Utah historians — Leonard J. Arrington and S. George Ellsworth. Its international holdings include the papers of Thomas G. Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia. Local holdings include a one-of-a-kind history of Mendon, hand-written in beautiful script by Isaac Sorenson.

 

With its multiple holdings, a trip to Special Collections and Archives is a history buff or researcher’s dream.  And, a hidden, but true, resource is the staff. All take time throughout the week to sit at the desk in the Tanner Memorial Reading Room. There, they greet patrons and respond to questions. Everyone does this on a rotating schedule and during times when they are not at the desk being a live reference source, they take turns being “runners,” retrieving items for guests or making copies of documents. That helps them learn more about every collection. So, whether it’s a finger-snapping copy of a beat poem or a 1953 copy of the Extension publication “Sugar beet yield and quality as affected by plant populations, soil moisture condition and fertilization,” it can be found at SCA.

 

Most important, the university’s treasures are not meant to be tucked away then trotted out for the occasional display, although a healthy, and lively, exhibition program has been established by University Libraries, the administrative home to SCA. No, items are meant to be used, held, listened to and read. Special Collections and Archives is a place to bring researchers and primary source documents together, supporting the research process. It’s been used by East Coast scholars and Cache Valley grandmothers. It is a place where everyone can follow the call to hear the voices from the past.

 

 

Our Favorite Things...


Here are a few favorite things revered by staff at Special Collections and Archives.