Deep in the belly of the Criss Library at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) lies Archives and Special Collections, the preserver of not only UNO and Nebraska’s history, but the history of the world.
Archives and Special Collections has existed within the Criss Library for more than 40 years, said Amy Schindler, director of Archives and Special Collections. During this time, historical artifacts, documents, oral histories and more have been collected and stored in a variety of areas of focus otherwise known as collecting areas.
One of the largest collections the organization has is on Chuck Hagel, a UNO alumnus, two-term U.S. senator and former Secretary of Defense during the Obama administration.
“When he was retiring from the U.S. Senate in 2008, he donated his senate papers,” Schindler said. “Since then, he’s continued to donate material both personal and professional.”
Schindler said the Hagel collection encompasses over 1,000 cubic feet of material and includes photographs, speeches, publications and more. While the Hagel collection is the most prominent, the collecting area that gets the most use is the university archives, which includes anything related to the history of UNO.
Archives and Special Collections keeps several pieces from the UNO collection on permanent display, including a chair that belonged to Daniel E. Jenkins, the founder of the University of Omaha.
“Someone saved it many, many decades ago,” Schindler said. “It was on display in Arts and Sciences Hall for a number of years, and then it came here to the library where we have proper storage and security and can care for it so it remains available for many generations to come.”
Additionally, Archives and Special Collections houses what Schindler calls more traditional university items, such as t-shirts, banners and posters created by student organizations and faculty.
Archives and Special Collections also houses a rare book collection made up of many different collecting areas, including the Arthur Paul Afghanistan Collection. Arthur Paul, the collection’s namesake, lived in Afghanistan in the 1960s and collected nearly 2,000 books, which he and his wife later donated to the university.
While the Archives has housed collections like Paul’s for the past 40 years, in recent years, the organization has been expanding its collections to include the voices of those who went unrecognized in the past. One example of this is seen in the creation of The Queer Omaha Archives, which officially launched in 2016.
“That was an initiative that the library started because folks on campus and in the community were interested and believed the time was right in Omaha, or maybe even past due, for there to be a cultural heritage repository that was collecting archival manuscript material about the LGBTQ+ experience in greater Omaha,” Schindler said.
Besides collecting material from community members and organizations for The Queer Omaha Archives, oral history interviews are also being collected. Schindler said the oral histories are helping to fill in the gaps left behind by a lack of saved material.
“Traditionally in Archives, we rely on someone to have saved material, but what if no one saved anything either because they didn’t think it was important at the time or they weren’t able to save material?” Schindler said. “Collecting oral histories is a way for us to still document an individual’s story and their experience in their own words instead of through a document or video.”
Oral histories are being collected with the help of donations and grant funding. In October, an exhibit featuring artifacts from the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights will be on display for LGBTQ history month.
The Archives, which are open to UNO students, faculty and staff and community members, also includes local and regional collections and is never done with the collecting process.
“One of my colleagues in another department once asked me, ‘Amy, so when are you going to be done with the Archives?” Schindler said. “The reality is, it’s never done for us. There’s always a new semester of classes to come in or researches contacting us. We are an active archive. We are receiving new material every week.”
Overall, Schindler said collecting material in Archives and Special Collections helps people to “know where we’ve come from.”
“I do subscribe to the notion that it’s important for us as a society and as humans to have a broader understanding of what’s happened in the past,” Schindler said. “It reveals something about not just us individually, but as a society, about humans.”