Ask an Archivist: The Questions We Ask Ourselves

This year October 5th is “Ask An Archivist” Day!  For us, Ask an Archivist Day usually means fielding questions from the public about what life in an archive is like.

However, this week a group of student archivists working at the University of Maryland’s Special Collections and University Archives are taking this time to start a conversation about the nature of archives more broadly. This “Ask An Archivist” Day, they are asking: “Can I break the archive?”


In the 2009 article published in Archival Science, Jeannette Bastian concludes that, “a cultural expression has no end; it is always becoming something else.” In one sense, this is intuitive: there is “culture” all around us and it is constantly evolving. This ceaseless evolution is exactly what can make  the dinner table at Thanksgiving so uncomfortable. After all, having so many generations in one place is bound to cause friction. But, it’s not just “culture” that’s evolving. It is all the things that culture entails. The objects, documents, and evidence of culture–typically the stuff of archives–is itself bound to the constant flux of relationships and activities that frame and contextualize their existence. We tend to think of archives as evidence of a distant past that are static. Safe in their archival boxes, nothing can harm or change the objects that have been chosen to represent the past.

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It’s a Clue! Girls Series Books in Special Collections

You may know about teen sleuth Nancy Drew, but have you head of Beverley Gray, Sue Barton, Cherry Ames, Judy Bolton, Penny Parker, or Vicki Barr?

Special Collections and University Archives is home to many wonderful book collections dating from the 16th century to the present day. One of our favorite, and perhaps most fun, is the Rose and Joseph Pagnani Collection Girls Series collection, available in Hornbake Library.

These books were targeted to young readers in the 1930s and beyond. They featured independent, fearless, and clever women who solved mysteries and foiled crimes in their everyday lives. The heroines in these novels were often young students or career women. Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton were a teen detectives, Cherry Ames was a nurse, Vicki Barr was a flight attendant, Penny Parker was a newspaper reporter, and Beverly Gray was a college student. And since many of these series spanned several years/decades, it is fascinating to see how these literary women evolved over time, growing older (sometimes) and adapting to cultural changes. 

For images from our Girls Series Books, check out the gallery below or visit our Flickr album. Stop by the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to explore our collections.




Literary Special Collections

Special Collections and University Archives in Hornbake Library is home to a wide array rare and unique literary collections. From personal papers of authors and poets to early printed works, our collections cross a variety of subjects and time periods in the literary world.

Archival Collections

Below are some highlights from our archival literary collections in Hornbake Library:

  • Katherine Anne Porter papers
    • Personal papers of American author Katheriane Anne Porter (1890-1980), best known for her short stories and novel Ship of Fools (1962).
  • Djuna Barnes papers
    • Personal papers of avant-garde American writer and artist Djuna Barnes (1892-1982), best known for her novel Nightwood (1936).
  • Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven papers
    • Personal papers of avant-garde artist and poet Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927). She is associated with Djuna Barnes and the Dada movement.
  • Ernest Hemingway collection
    • A large portion of the collection consists of serials that include stories and nonfiction written by and about Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). It also includes some original correspondence to and from Hemingway. In addition, there are manuscripts and proofs of Hemingway’s work and biographies of Hemingway.
  • Literary First Appearances
    • Periodicals containing the “first appearance,” or first public dissemination, of many noteworthy 20th century literary works.
  • French Pamphlet Collection
    • Approximately 12,000 pieces dating from 1620 to 1966, covering many key episodes in the history of France. The largest part of the collection is made up of 7000 pamphlets from the Revolutionary and Napoleonic eras, 1788-1815.
  • African American Pamphlet Collection
    • 20th century materials on African, African-American, and Caribbean culture and literature. The collection spans the years 1905-1979, although the majority of the pamphlets date from the 1960s and 1970s.

Subject Guides

Rare Book Collections

Our rare book collections contain books printed from the 16th century to modern times. Most are searchable in the online catalog. Below are some highlights from the collection:

  • German Expressionism collection
    • Contains serials and books that reflect German Expressionism, a culural, literary, and artistic movement that began in Germany prior to the First World War.
  • William Morris collection
    • Works by 19th century British author, socialist, designer and founder of the Kelmscott Press, William Morris (1834-1896).
  • Eikon Basilike
    • Guide to the Eikon Basilike and related materials held by Special Collections and University Archives

Want to learn more? Explore our literary special collections online or visit the Maryland Room to speak to a librarian. You can also contact us via email.

Follow us on Instagram and Twitter for updates and images from our collections.

AFL-CIO Artifact Project: Summer 2016

By Margot Willis, Labor Collections Volunteer

In 2013, the American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) donated the entire holdings of the George Meany Memorial Archives to the Special Collections and University Archives Department of University of Maryland Libraries. This collection contains the most important documentation of the history of America’s largest federation of labor unions, founded in 1955. Comprising over 20,000 linear shelf feet of a wide variety material, including documents, photographs, audiovisual materials and artifacts, it represents the single largest donation of archival material to the University to date.

Until this summer, the artifacts portion of the AFL-CIO collection had gone almost entirely untouched by university archival staff due to other higher priorities.  Packed away in the same bubble wrap and cardboard boxes in which they were transferred to the University three years ago, the AFL-CIO artifacts sat in out-of-the-way corners of Hornbake Library.

Back in April, when I first spoke with University of Maryland Labor Archivists Jen Eidson and Ben Blake about a possible volunteer project over the summer, I mentioned that I have an interest in museum studies, and would like to learn more about the care and organization of artifacts in an archive. Because they needed immediate help in verifying identifications and locations of AFL-CIO artifacts in anticipation of an upcoming exhibit and due to the fact I was willing to work for free, they granted my wish and set me to work.

I worked wherever there were boxes, which happened to be in the very bottom and the very top floors of Hornbake library. Oftentimes, the spaces I worked in were very small, and the boxes very large.

Originally, the plan was for me to go through the boxes, locate each object in the original Meany Archives inventory of over 2500 records and enter the object’s new location in Hornbake. However, after about five minutes on the job, it became clear that the project would be a bit more complicated than that. There were items in the boxes that were not on the spreadsheet. There were items whose accession numbers appeared on the spreadsheet but whose descriptions did not match the items. There were boxes of dozens of items inside other boxes that had not been recorded as being there. The original inventory indicated that some boxes contained certain items, which, upon further examination, were not there at all. In other cases, boxes should have had only one object, but ended up containing six.

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History of the Book in Special Collections

We recently brought out treasures from our rare book and special collections stacks for a visiting History of the Book class from UMD’s iSchool. Many of the books on display represented a wide variety of illustrations, from early incunable woodcuts and the delicate wood engravings of Thomas Bewick to more modern lithography, aquatints, and engraving techniques.

Also on display were landmarks in literature, philosophy, and politics that showcase the changes in book production, marketing, and reception from the 16th century through the present day. Early works on display included French revolutionary pamphlets and philosophical works, such as our first edition Thomas Hobbes Leviathan, printed in 1651The rise of the modern paperback novel were represented by early editions of Harriet Beecher Stowe,  Ernest Hemingway, and James Joyce. The two artists books by Werner Pfeiffer, Out of the Sky (2006) and Alphebeticum (2006) are wonderful examples of how modern artists use typography and construction to push the envelope of how we experience books.

Browse our rare book collections online or contact a librarian for more information.

Alice’s Adventures in Hornbake Library are Coming to an End

If you haven’t made it to Hornbake Library to experience our exhibit Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll, now is the time! The final day it is open will be Friday, July 29th.

Over the past two years, we feel like we have become friends with Alice and her Wonderland friends as we have worked to bring her story to life by displaying the collection of two very devoted Lewis Carroll collectors, August and Clare Imholtz.

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Doves Press Bible on Display in Hornbake Library

Visit the Maryland Room in Hornbake Library to view The English Bible, printed by the Doves Press in 1903. This is an exquisite example of the fine press movement in England, which sought to create traditionally crafted, beautiful books using handmade paper, quality ink, and carefully designed type and page layout. The Doves Press operated in England from 1900-1916.

Explore more examples of fine press books in our Literature & Rare Books collections in Special Collections and University Archives.