When the first shipment of U.S. Senator Willis Smith’s papers arrived at Duke University in 1954, it numbered some 50,000 items—all paper documents. A photograph of that collection’s arrival has been kept in the collections of the University Archives. It shows Mattie Russell, then curator of manuscripts, and Jay Luvaas, then the director of the George Washington Flowers Collection of Southern Americana, sorting through reams upon reams of papers in the Library’s vault—which we still have, incidentally. It looks like something that Al Capone might have used.
Today, the staff of the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library (RBMSCL) still arranges and describes reams of paper documents, although we are honing our computer deconstruction skills as more of those documents are born digital. We also curate collections of rare printed materials, teach classes and organize events, and help people with a broad range of research and information needs. We want to use this blog to inform you about what we do: about our events and exhibits and projects, about our newly-acquired collections and our favorite treasures, and about the many reasons the RBMSCL is such an exciting place. So come visit us often!
And, by the way, the Willis Smith Papers have grown: the collection now contains 97,813 items. That’s over 130 linear feet of archival records. You can check out the collection inventory here.