History of Special Collections and University Archives

University Records and Library Collections, 1856-1940

For the first 100 years of the University’s history, the administrative records of the university were preserved, if at all, outside of the control of librarians or archivists. Beginning in 1856 with the founding of the Maryland Agricultural College (now the University of Maryland), the records of the college administrators were informally kept, mainly in the offices of the President and Treasurer, but also in various departments on campus. But their existence was significant enough to be noted in 1912, when many of the records were burned in the great fire that swept through the Barracks and Administration Building.1

Salvaging University records and other items from the 1912 fire of the Administration Building, University of Maryland Print Files (Series 5, Box 2, Folder 4), “Maryland Agricultural College fire.”

Twenty years later, the loss of these “early records” was still referred to by the reference librarian, who in 1932 requested that secure units to store “valuable books and records” should be purchased. However, University President R. A. Pearson countered that a lockable chest could be built at less than a tenth of the cost of wire-enclosed shelves.2 By the following year, librarian Grace Barnes expanded the wish list to include a public place within the library to display “interesting objects such as medals and important old letters and documents, relating to the university.”3 Even though budgetary woes made these requests difficult to fulfill, by 1935 the University of Maryland library was receiving offers from the public of historical documents that President Pearson said would be placed “in our archives,” by which he mainly referred to the donated manuscripts in the university library.4

Making Room for Special Collections and Archives, 1935-1950

Over the middle third of the twentieth century, special collections grew within the University of Maryland library, which moved into the Shoemaker Building in 1931. The “Maryland Collection” had its inception within the library in about 1936, a year after the Maryland Hall of Records was founded as a state archival repository in Annapolis. Indeed, the economic downturn of the 1930s had not prevented the University of Maryland from thinking about the long-term preservation of special library materials. For example, during his service as President (1935-1954), Harry Clifton Byrd responded to queries about loans, donations, and purchases of historical manuscripts and books. Some gifts to the University during that decade included “some very rare volumes” on transportation, and Byrd sought “to collect original material concerning the early period of Maryland’s history.”5 As early as 1941, the Maryland Collection accepted the archives of the Prince George’s County Community Council.6 The academic departments, such as History, played active roles in soliciting new collections, though books on Marylandia were still integrated into the general collections and could be circulated.7 In 1943, the Library Director recalled discussion of the “formation of a history museum…relating to the history of Maryland.”8

On the other hand, special collections were not always seen as a priority for library administrators. In the Director’s plan for a new library building in the 1940s, “rooms for special collections” were simply categorized as “miscellaneous features.”9 Though as early as 1948 the acting Library Director argued that the library should expand its holdings of “valuable archival material” and hire a staff member as full-time “university archivist,” both goals were delayed in hope of the construction of a new library.10 Moreover, records remained distributed among the originating units on campus. Indeed, President Byrd in 1949 signaled that “the University of Maryland does not have an archival program for preservation of records.”11 Preserving the papers of a United States Senator, Millard E. Tydings, was contemplated in 1950, but lack of “adequate” facilities postponed their eventual accession by a decade.12

The Maryland Room, McKeldin Library, from cover of Maryland Magazine, 34:1 (January-February 1962).

Growth in Special Collections and Archival Professionalism, 1950-1990

The post-World War II era saw enormous growth in the area of special collections and archives at the University of Maryland. In 1950, President Byrd agreed that the university in College Park should house the collection of over 71,000 books, magazines, and newspapers gathered in occupation-era Japan by Professor of History Gordon W. Prange, Professor of History, which later was named the Gordon W. Prange Collection. As importantly, the construction of McKeldin Library in 1958, which allowed for increased staff and greater space for collections, including the creation of a large Maryland Room for the preservation of the Maryland-related special collections.

Isabella Hayes served as head of the Maryland Room for two decades. In 1968, author Katherine A. Porter donated her personal papers, books, and effects, which led to the establishment of the Katherine A. Porter Room and the development of literary manuscripts as a major collecting area.

Isabella Hayes, Head of Maryland Room (1949-1969), Campus Photo (86-31), ca. June 1958.

Through the 1960s, interest in the creation of a professional “University Archives” grew in dramatic fashion. The writing of the first major monograph on the History of the University of Maryland, published in 1966 by George Callcott of the University of Maryland’s Department of History, indicated both the research value of university archives for scholarly work and the difficulty of assembling important records related to the university’s history. The hiring of the first professional archivist, Mary Boccaccio, preceded any formal recognition of the University Libraries as the “official depository of University records.”13 In 1972, Boccaccio urged ambitiously that the Board of Regents should approve the library as the authority “to preserve the integrity of the University records and to establish the principle of a university-wide records program” and that the archives in College Park should be responsible for records created by the University’s central administration and the records of the University’s Board of Regents. Both “current and semi-current records as well as…historical records” would fall under University Archives. Other state campuses were left free to develop their own archives. Unfortunately, only ‘informal’ approval from Library Director Howard Rovelstad could be attained in 1972, leaving many legal and administrative questions unresolved.

Senator Millard E. Tydings (left) and Eleanor Davies Cheesborough Tydings visit the McKeldin Library, with Vicky Campbell Tydings and Joseph Tydings (at right). Circa 1958-1960. Millard E. Tydings donated his political papers to the University of Maryland, which University President Wilson H. Elkins (center) accepted after Tydings’ death in 1961. University of Maryland, Print Files (Series 4, Box 6, Folder 11), Libraries

Still, the creation in 1977 of the “Archives and Manuscripts Department” within the University of Maryland Libraries at College Park acknowledged the growth of institutional records, though equally significant was the collecting of the personal papers of major political figures, headlined by the accession of the papers of former United States Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. In the 1970s, the care of literary manuscripts also grew through the purchase and donation of influential authors’ papers, such as the Ernest Hemingway collection and the Djuna Barnes papers. In 1993, the first-named University Archivist took over leadership of the archives within that department.14 At the same time, the efforts of the Rare Books and Marylandia divisions to collect rare books and research materials continued.

Mary Boccaccio, the first professional archivist hired by the University of Maryland, ca. 1973. University of Maryland Publication, March 1973.

New Initiatives, 1990-2015

Further developments since the 1990s – including online catalogs, internet access points, and multiple organizational changes – broadened the scope and usability of the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives. For example, in 1990, the National Public Broadcasting Archives was inaugurated at the University of Maryland, thereby launching a major collecting initiative into the mass media and culture of 20th-century America. Between 1994 and 2010, a separate reading room in Hornbake Library serviced broadcasting collections. In 2013, the addition of the George Meany Memorial Archive (containing archives of labor union AFL-CIO) represented the largest single archival donation in the university’s history and solidified the labor collections accepted by the library throughout the second half the 20th century.15 In 2013, the Maryland State Archives finally recognized the University of Maryland as the official repository of university archives.16 The first modern “community archives” in Maryland’s Special Collections – the Filipino American Community Archives – was established with a partnership with the Rita M. Cacas Foundation.17

After several physical moves, “Special Collections” since 2001 has been located in the R. Lee Hornbake Library, where it has become nationally recognized for its hosting of year-long exhibits in the large gallery outside of the reading room, known currently as the Maryland Room. The Katherine A. Porter Room was also re-established in Hornbake Library to display Porter’s library and artifacts. The Gordon W. Prange Collection was made accessible in a reading room on the fourth floor of Hornbake Library from late 2007 until 2017, when it became available in the Maryland Room. A growing focus on instruction, outreach, and community archives increased the integration of Special Collections and University Archives within the campus, local, and national communities. The Maryland Room in Hornbake Library now provides the central access point to five major collecting areas – Marylandia and Historical Manuscripts; the AFL-CIO and Labor collections; Mass Media and Culture; the Gordon W. Prange Collection; and Literary Manuscripts and Rare Books.

Written by Eric Stoykovich, January 2019
Anne S. Turkos, Kendall Aughenbaugh, and Elizabeth Novara assisted in the preparation of this history

  1. The Triangle reported that a “small band at once attacked the fire, but owing to the difficulty in getting near the flames and the dense smoke which quickly filled the building, they were soon com¬pelled to desist fighting the fire and began removing the records from the offices of the President and the Treasurer” (The Triangle (College Park, MD), 4:5 (December 1, 1912), University of Maryland Student Newspapers.
  2. Reference Librarian to Ben H. Miller, October 18, 1932, (“early records”), and Librarian (Grace Barnes) to President R. Pearson, December 30, 1932, (“valuable books and records”), Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 11, “Pearson, R.A., Sep-Dec 1932;” R.A. Pearson to Miss Barnes, April 27, 1933, (“Yale lock”), Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries.
  3. Librarian (GB) to President Pearson, April 13, 1934, Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 11, “Pearson, R.A., 1934-1935.”
  4. President R.A. Pearson to Mrs. Ruth Lee Briscoe, March 13, 1935, Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 11, “Pearson, R.A., 1934-1935.”
  5. President H.C. Byrd to Miss Barnes, September 13, 1937, (“rare volumes”), Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 11, “Byrd, H.C., 1928-1937.” President H.C. Byrd to Mr. W.F. Horn, March 3, 1942, (“Maryland’s history”), Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 11, “Byrd, H.C., 1941-1942.”
  6. Patricia Rettig, “An Administrative History of the Archives and Manuscripts Department in the University of Maryland Libraries,” LBSC 732, April 29, 1998, p. 1, in Anne Turkos’s Folder “Archives & Manuscripts Dept. History – Patty Rettig / Records Mgmt at UM by Michelle DeMartino.
  7. In 1950, Director of Libraries clarified that “bound periodicals and books in the Maryland Collection circulate to faculty and graduate students for one week only. Books of certain special collections, such as rare books, do not circulate except by permission of the Librarian for special use.” (H. Rovelstad to Dr. H.C. Byrd, November 21, 1950, Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 11, “Byrd, H.C., 1950-1951.”
  8. Director of Libraries Carl W. Hintz to Dr. H.C. Byrd, October 26, 1943, (“history museum”), Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 12, “Byrd, H.C., 1943.”
  9. Director of Libraries Carl W. Hintz, “Preliminary Memorandum on Future Growth and Development of the General Library,” Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 12, “Byrd, H.C., 1945-1947.”
  10. Acting Director of Libraries H. Rovelstad to Dr. H. C. Byrd, February 9, 1948, (“archival material”), Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 12, “Byrd, H.C., 1948-1949.”
  11. Anne S. Turkos, “A Brief History of the University of Maryland University Archives,” (rev. 2013), p. 1, available at https://www.lib.umd.edu/binaries/content/assets/public/special/university-of-maryland/university-archives-history-081413.pdf.
  12. These were the Millard E. Tydings papers, accessioned upon his death in 1961. Director of Libraries H. Rovelstad to Dr. H.C. Byrd, December 13, 1950, Office of the Director of Libraries records, Subseries 1.2: Office of the President, 1905-1971, Box 12, “Byrd, H.C., 1950-1951.
  13. Robert A. Beach, Jr., Assistant to the President for University Relations, to Dr. Wilson H. Elkins (President, University of Maryland), April 18, 1972, University of Maryland President’s Office files, Box 273, Folder “Board – May 12 – Archives for University of Maryland.”
  14. Between 1985 and 2011, Lauren Brown directed the work of the Archives and Manuscripts Department. In 1993, he wrote, “I am pleased to announce that Anne Turkos has been appointed University Archivist for the College Park campus” (Lauren Brown, Curator, Archives & Manuscripts Department, to Dr. Norman L. Canfield, December 8, 1993, University Archives, University of Maryland, recent accession to Hornbake Library, 10/2018).
  15. “George Meany Memorial Archives,” National Labor College, available at http://www.nlc.edu/archives/.
  16. Timothy D. Baker, Deputy State Archivist, to Anne S.K. Turkos, University Archivist, “Maryland State Archives–approved local archives,” July 8, 2013, Vault file. See also COMAR, Section 14.18.03.
  17. Beginning in 2014, the Curator of Marylandia and Historical Manuscripts, Elizabeth Novara, was instrumental in helping establish the Filipino American Community Archives.

One thought on “History of Special Collections and University Archives

  1. The last sentence in this post should be updated to reflect that the University Archives, a major collecting area of its own, are also accessible in the Maryland Room

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