An Intern's Experience in Special Collections

Posted on
July 19, 2017

From the warm and welcoming reading room to the frigid ground floor stacks, the Special Collections Research Center offers a wealth of historical resources, right at the heart of campus. I am grateful to have the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes look at the SCRC and explore many of its treasures this summer through Swem Library’s Mosaic Internship Program.

As an intern in William & Mary Libraries’ External Relations Office, I am writing several articles that will be featured in the W&M Libraries’ biennial report, slated to come out this December. While working on these articles, I have talked with many members of the W&M community, including the SCRC’s Oral Historian Carmen Bolt, Music Librarian Kathleen DeLaurenti, and the new Vice Chair of the W&M Libraries Board of Directors, John Johnson. Between juggling the various other assigned writing projects, I have examined many collections in the SCRC as I work on a story about W&M alumni collectors who have donated their collections to the university.

I knew working on the article would be a lengthy project, not only because it would take time to get in touch with several alumni and interview them, but also because I wanted to familiarize myself with their collections beforehand. Over the past several weeks I have taken many trips to the SCRC to look at a variety of collections: documents signed by 17th- and 18th- century Virginian governors, film posters from the 1930s-1970s, and American almanacs published during the Revolutionary War, to name a few.

The first alumnus I reached out to was Barry Martin, a 1959 graduate who initially donated manuscripts to the W&M History Department before later donating a large collection of books on the American Revolution to the SCRC. When I interviewed him on the phone, he was delighted to recall his experiences as a young collector and student at W&M. Martin had been interested in the American Revolution from a young age, leading to his first purchase at age 13 of a document featuring John Quincy Adams’s signature. Reflecting on his time as a W&M student, Martin recalled that the campus library was much smaller, as it was located at what is now Tucker Hall. Martin also spoke of his American history professors with great admiration, reminding me of the importance of educators (like professors and librarians) in telling and preserving the stories of our past for future students.

I also had the pleasure of viewing a collection of lantern slides and stereoviews donated by 1971 alumnus, Kelvin Ramsey. I had never heard of a stereoview before, and was intrigued to find out that it is an instrument used to create a 3D illusion. Ramsey’s slide and stereoview collection features a wide variety of images, including Virginia landmarks, tobacco farms, and even Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt. Ramsey, a geologist, has visited just about every county and corner in Virginia, and his collection reflects his admiration for Virginia history and culture.

I look forward to hearing about the experiences of the other alumni I have yet to interview. As I continue to talk with more and more people from the W&M community, a common thread among these narratives becomes clear: Virginia is our home. Not only a home to W&M, but a home to a revolutionary spirit that I hope will live on for centuries to come. It has been exciting for me to take a firsthand look at these documentations of history, and I hope that others who have the opportunity to visit the SCRC feel as engaged and inspired by its collections as I do. As I reflect on my time at this internship, I have realized a newfound appreciation for the SCRC’s efforts to preserve and document Virginia history. And as a native Virginian, I am proud to call Virginia my home, sweet home.

Written by Alea Al-Aghbari, Mosaic Intern