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Organizations: Thrift Library

Someone digging into Anderson’s archives will learn exactly what the big deal is about an old wooden shepherd’s crook. They might also learn the collection includes a piano used by Grammy Award winning musician Johnny Mann, and also his Grammy Award. For others, the thrill of discovery might be learning more about a relative’s college experience in years past. 

Anderson University’s Thrift Library wants people to enjoy viewing items in its special collections and to be able to tap into its rich storehouse of information for academic or personal research. While preserving the past is important, it’s even more important to know where to find specific items. In 2023 they hired Kenzie Barnett as research and instruction archivist and have been busy ever since getting thousands of pieces of Anderson University history sorted out in practical, meaningful ways while ensuring that fragile items are properly stored and preserved.  

Barnett also works with the various academic departments around Anderson University, helping students understand what they do and how to use the university’s archives in research. There have also been students assisting in the cataloging of thousands of items, which will be of benefit now and in the future. In addition to research, Thrift Library offers internships to students. 

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An example of recent research was an array of historical items that students taking Literary Theory and Research assembled in the lobby of Watkins Hall during the College of Arts and Science Showcase in fall 2023, which included a display about student life over the years.  

“The best way to engage people is to make history tangible for them,” Barnett said. “A lot of people think history is a really boring subject, so having that physical evidence of ‘here’s what students just like you wrote about’ that would be amazing.” 

Thrift Library Director Dr. Melanie Croft saw firsthand the importance of preserving the past when visitors came to the library during Homecoming last year and were greeted by historical displays. Especially popular were the yearbooks. 

“We have the largest collection of AU history, which serves to honor our founders and those who have continued to support the university throughout the years,” Dr. Croft said. 

For years, yearbooks and other printed documents have been available online and a goal is for more to be accessed while easing the process. Much has been digitized, but that’s only part of the challenge facing efforts to preserve university history.  

The archives now have found a safe, climate-controlled place in Thrift Library and the library staff is committed to following best practices used by other institutions and organizations in archiving. Thrift Library also wants to locate significant archival items located elsewhere on campus. Future efforts include digitizing old audio and video recordings, which will take time and money because of the now outdated media used, such as home movie film, VHS and Beta videotapes and open-reel audio tapes. 

“We’ve got all the good stuff from before everybody puts their lives online now,” she said.  

Barnett recalls assisting James and Barbara Mullinax.  

“James had a close relative who attended AU back in 1914-1915. While doing some cleaning they found old yearbooks from the then-new institution. Unfortunately, at least one of them was in poor condition due to general age and the spine had fallen apart, leaving the pages a mess. They were mostly able to keep the other together, but it wasn’t doing well,” Barnett said. “They were hoping to piece what they had back together to make sense of the yearbook and keep the memories alive; however, none of those had page numbers. So they called our library seeing if we knew anything or could direct them in the best way to help with the yearbooks. While we have a few items—like the Yearbooks—digitized and findable on Internet Archive, we do not have many and it isn’t always easy to access. So I tracked down copies of the originals, then set to work scanning the two books in their entirety into PDF documents that were stored both digitally and then physically printed off. I emailed the links for the PDFs and then sent the physical copies by mail so that regardless, they would have a tangible, ordered copy. They got it around Christmas, in time to show to the rest of the family.” 

Donating and supporting 

Thrift Library is interested in any items related to Anderson University’s history, such as old yearbooks, playbills for college productions or related items. If you have an item you would like to share with or donate to Anderson University, contact Barnett at kbarnett@andersonuniversity.edu