To The Libraries!

This week, I was back in a library
– three of them, in fact! I had almost forgotten how much I love being
surrounded by archival materials. I like looking at the stacks and nimbly
making my way through the folders to find what I’m looking for. There’s something
about holding important documents in my arms and the fresh smell of opening an
old book that pulls me in. And then, once I’m in, there’s no holding back – I’m
absorbed into something and somewhere and I’m absolutely thrilled.

           I was
overjoyed by having the same experience three times in a week in three
different places. Here’s where I visited:

  • Special
    Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. DuBois Library, UMass Amherst:
    close to home, but still a first for my time here at UMass. (I hope it’s not
    the last!) For my Public History Workshop, we’ve been studying the Mill River
    Flood of 1874. After the Williamsburg dam burst upstream, the reservoir poured
    through several villages down to Northampton, killing 139 people and destroying
    thousands of dollars worth of property. While our class has walked portions of
    the river, it’s a bit difficult to see it in full form with all the snow we’ve
    been having. Instead, we wanted to have a visual representation of the river
    and the old dam. We looked through several atlases and maps, as well as
    stereoscopic cards showcasing the damage of the flood. My professor also showed
    us how to access the Map Collection at DuBois Library, and the especially
    useful Digital Sanborn Maps for the area.
  • Archives
    & Special Collections, Robert Frost Library, Amherst College:
    For my
    class focused on using Adobe InDesign to create a book catalog, we went to
    Amherst to investigate the history of the book. While our focus in the class is
    primarily on their digital counterpart (the e-book), we wanted to see the
    history of printing, the physical structure of a book, and talk about how print
    spread. The Head of Archives & Special Collections, Mike Kelly, gave our
    class a great presentation, with everything a leaf of the Gutenberg Bible to
    the unbound Pickwick Papers to “Whiteness” that only showed up under black
    light. For a person who basically lives in books (you should see my bedroom at
    home!), most of my modern editions look the same. It was awesome to see books
    of different shapes, sizes, and purposes.
  • Hampshire
    Room for Local History, Forbes Library, Northampton MA:
    This was a library
    I’ve never been to before, but one I definitely have to go back to. It’s the
    only public library in the United States that is also a presidential library –
    Calvin Coolidge’s to be exact. But I wasn’t there to see the former POTUS’s
    documents (not this time, anyway.) This was another trip focused on the Mill
    River. In addition to looking at some awesome maps of Northampton and the
    changes to the Mill River’s route over time, I got to read articles of the
    Hampshire Gazette and journals of Sylvester Judd. Judd was a Unitarian Minister
    and novelist, but he spent his early life in Westhampton. He kept detailed
    notebooks describing the area of Hadley and discussing daily life, especially
    noting the regular floods of the river. His journals were surprisingly easy to read and packed with information. 

I’m sure I’ll be in and out of these places throughout the rest of the semester, but this week was pretty fantastic! 

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