Memories fade over time, but UNO Library’s Archives and Special Collections is teaching people how to protect them.
Located on the library’s first floor, an entrance displaying historic Omaha artifacts leads to a section of the building that not a lot of students know about. What’s behind those doors is something unexpected and fascinating—the preservation of the past and the future. Archives and Special Collections have millions of items, ranging from a 16th century book to films showing UNO in the 1930s.
“We serve as basically UNO’s history museum,” said Amy Schindler, director of Archives and Special Collections.
Over the years, archives have accumulated correspondence, photographs, recordings, scrapbooks and memorabilia relating to the Omaha and UNO community. Early yearbooks and newspapers from campus are also available for viewing. The archives have existed for about 40 years, being in their current location for about a decade. Some of the items require storage in a climate-controlled, secure area that only archivists can access. This storage space contains its own fire suppressant system, meaning if there were to be an electrical fire, it wouldn’t be water sprinklers to go off as it would likely ruin the artifacts. Instead, a chemical is released that sucks out most of the oxygen from the space and suppresses the fire.
“That’s just sort of the level of security and care we take with this material because much of what is here is unique,” said Schindler. “We don’t have many duplicates and not everything is digitized yet.”
Having a place like the archives is important to preserve the history of our communities. Schindler said the archives also have a responsibility to make sure people are aware of the content, bringing guests to better understand past historical and cultural movements. While artifacts are helpful for understanding what life was like before our time, many visit UNO Archives and Special Collections to revisit events they have lived through by viewing photographs or reading about the involvement of others.
“One thing archives and special collections can do is illustrate the experiences of individuals,” said Schindler. “It’s interesting to watch them have the realization and understanding of what other experiences were. I hope it helps create some human-to-human understanding.”
UNO Archives and Special Collections currently has two exhibits on display. The first is historical material celebrating the 60th anniversary of Opera Omaha, Nebraska’s only professional opera company. The second contains artifacts from Senator Hagel, former US Secretary of Defense and UNO alumni. Hagel served as a soldier in Vietnam, as Nebraska’s senator from 1997 to 2009 and as secretary of defense from 2013 to 2015. After Hagel left the U.S. Senate, he donated his records to UNO, becoming the Chuck Hagel Archives.
Like the rest of the library, Archives and Special Collections does various outreach activities for the UNO community. This spring, staff will be doing a reoccurring event called “Fridays with the Archives.” The event is a lunchtime series where for about an hour, people come to talk with archivists and other guests about how to care for personal archives.
“It’s fun to share with students,” said Schindler. “It isn’t something that most people anticipate or even think exist, but it does, and it’s here for people to use.”
Archives and Special Collections is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Two “Fridays with the Archives” events remain this semester. On April 13, staff will discuss caring for personal digital archives. May 11 will be about caring for audio and other media materials. All events take place from noon to 1 p.m. Attendees may attend one or all of the sessions. To register for these events, go online or contact Schindler at email@example.com.