Many students may know Hale Library for its Great Room and great coffee. What some may not know about are the rare and one-of-a-kind items that can be found on the top level. With its offices on the fifth floor of Hale, the special collections department provides resources to numerous people in the Manhattan community and beyond.
Founded in 1967, the collections were first built to include official university archives.
“The archives unit has remained in different forms,” said Cliff Hight, assistant professor at Hale Library and university archivist. “What has been constant is our interest in working with the campus community to provide research and to help answer questions.”
Special collections generally include resources that are distinct, unique or rare in some way and these items often require enhanced care.
“Light, temperature, humidity and other factors can have a negative impact on collections,” Hight said. “So, we take steps to limit exposure to light, to maintain constant humidity and temperature levels. We try to store items in ways that’ll extend their existence as long as possible.”
Many types of resources can be found in the department, including manuscripts, rare books, recordings and photographs. While the K-State Libraries special collections already has over a million items, the local staff is always looking to add more.
“One of my main responsibilities is growing the collection, so I work with donors and potential donors who have materials of interest to researchers,” Jane Schillie, associate professor at Hale Library, said.
Since its opening in the late ’60s, the department has served many members of the community, whether that be faculty, students or casual researchers.
“We usually assist the public with questions about history and also genealogy, food pathways and the American consumer movement,” said Keli Rylance, assistant professor at Hale Library and head of special collections. “We also give consultations to faculty looking to do research and we help cultural heritage organizations when they have outreach planning.”
The department is comprised of seven categories, from military history to public service journalism, allowing researchers and campus members to narrow their search based on what types of materials they will need.
Students often visit and use the special collections for a number of reasons, such as using the materials and digitized content for course assignments, primary sources and research.
“This semester, many students have been using a variety of our resources, but they seem particularly focused on the history of the university,” Schillie said.
The department is open to students from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. While appointments aren’t required, visitors can use the “Search It” and “Finding Aids” tools on the collections website to find materials they might need before they come to the library.
By filling out the department’s research registration form, the department staff can prepare the materials before the student or faculty member arrive. During their visit, student peers are available to provide assistance and make referrals to specialist faculty.
“We have a considerable number of walk-in researchers compared to many other special collections libraries and I think this speaks to the success of our peer consultant program,” Rylance said.
The large number of resources in special collections guarantees that for the department staff, anything can happen.
“I’m not sure there is such a thing as an ordinary day,” Hight said. “I could spend hours elbow-deep in boxes of records or working with researchers to answer their questions.”
No matter what a client needs, research opportunities and breakthroughs always bring change to the office.
“There’s never a dull moment,” Rylance said. “No matter what the days are filled with, we learn something new every day.”