NIU archivists hunting for ‘treasure’ request invites to faculty, staff office-cleaning parties

Photo of stack of moving boxesWait, outgoing faculty members! Don’t throw out those academic articles, faculty publications and class syllabi from years past!

They might be junk to you, but they could be treasures to NIU.

Archivists at the university-based Regional History Center are encouraging the hundreds of professors and staff members who are retiring within the next few months to invite them to their offices so they can determine if their clutter should be permanently part of NIU’s historical fabric.

That stack of papers or boxes tucked in a corner could be of use in years to come.

Cindy Ditzler, NIU archivist and director of the Regional History Center, has seen it happen before.

“[Last] year we received a call from (NIU) music professor Eric Johnson who told us about 17 boxes left behind by retired noted music professor Elwood Smith. They contained open-reel tapes of Smith’s recordings that had been aired on WNIU during the ’70s and ’80s,” Ditzler said. “They were a wonderful addition to our collections.”

On another occasion after the death of Helen Merritt, a distinguished NIU art professor, her husband donated her papers to the university’s archives. They were in her home office file cabinets just like she left them when she retired.

“Not long after we took possession of them, we received a call from a professor from a university in California asking to use them in his research,” Ditzler said.

To avoid dust-collecting years in an attic or basement, archivists will pour over the papers and publications to determine if they should be saved.

If they should be, they will even help put them in boxes and take them to Founders Memorial Library where the center is located.

“We’ll catalogue them, store them archival boxes and folders, and make them available to our researchers,” she said. “And when the money is available and the need arises, we’ll digitalize them and make them available through the center’s website.”

James Merritt donated his the papers of his late wife, NIU art history professor Helen Merritt, to the university’s archives after her death May 12, 2009.

James Merritt donated his the papers of his late wife, NIU art history professor Helen Merritt, to the university’s archives after her death May 12, 2009.

Some of the items center employees want include:

  • Annual reports.
  • Committee minutes and newsletters.
  • Samples of syllabi, exams or student papers.
  • Identified photographs.
  • Brochures and special events programs.
  • Memorabilia such as buttons, banners and posters.
  • Administrative correspondences.

Among the items archivists do not want:

  • Individual student records
  • Individual personnel records
  • Class rosters and schedules
  • Budget, purchasing or accounting records
  • Newspaper clippings or unidentified photographs

“We need your help in order to preserve the history of NIU for future generations. Many people think archives are old documents and photographs,” Ditzler said. “We want everything to present day. Let us be the judge. In this case, there is real meaning to the saying, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ ”

Contact Ditzler by calling the center at (815) 753-1779 or by sending her an email at cditzler@niu.edu.

by Gerard Dziuba

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