COOKEVILLE — While 2020 has been a struggle for many, University Archives and Special Collections chose to create successes out of challenges. From helping survivors of the March 3 tornadoes to documenting stories of the COVID-19 pandemic to making more materials digitally accessible than ever before, Archives has gone above and beyond to help the Golden Eagle community. This is why Tennessee Tech chose to make this area the focus of its Giving Tuesday fundraising efforts this year.
Giving Tuesday is an international day of giving celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. While donors could make a gift to any area on campus, Tech chose to highlight University Archives through a series of social media posts, videos and emails.
“Archives everywhere tend to be relatively unknown,” said Megan Atkinson, university archivist. “That is one reason it was so important to us to be featured on Giving Tuesday and have our services and mission promoted to so many within our community.”
Walking into University Archives and Special Collections is like stepping back in time. It’s a view into the Tennessee Tech of the past. Comprised of more than 3,300 cubic feet of manuscripts, photographs and archives from Tech and the Upper Cumberland, Archives makes materials accessible both digitally and on site, assists researchers, and connects students and alumni with collections, exhibits and classes.
When COVID-19 forced people to stay home, University Archives quickly recognized that they needed better access to online and catalog records, descriptions for digitized materials and the ability to view exhibits online.
“With better online access, we are reaching individuals who may have never found the Archives or used our materials,” said Atkinson. “While we socially distanced and did not see people in person, the use of technology allowed us to collaborate and share more than any year prior – reaching people in new and different ways.”
University Archives curated a number of online exhibits including a series of exhibits on the history of the Leona Lusk Officer Black Cultural Center, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. The exhibits trace the philosophy of black cultural centers in the United States and the black student movement of the 1960s and 70s. They also outline the climate in which Tech students decided to push for their own center in the late 1980s.
Archives’ most popular online exhibit has been Big Name Entertainment, an exhibit featuring the many big-name groups that have performed at Tech. The exhibit includes a photo gallery, stories, historical documents and even a playlist.
They also worked with the School of Human Ecology and Women’s Center on a suffrage exhibit, the School of Music on storage for recitals and performances and the Department of Chemistry on exhibits for the new lab sciences building.
University Archives’ work extends beyond the university; they assisted with exhibits for the Cookeville History Museum and City Hall as well. They also documented, preserved and made accessible the COVID-19 experiences of Tech and the Upper Cumberland. Future researchers will value the documentation and experiences during this pandemic, just as researchers today rely on documents from the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918.
But what University Archives did for the community following the March 3 tornadoes was nothing short of remarkable. Archives preserved, digitized and stored more than 3,800 photographs, cards, journals, letters, drawings and other personal items and reunited many with owners.
Atkinson says that formats within University Archives are changing, and that requires unprecedented funding that was not historically required for paper records.
“While we are constantly upgrading, there is still plenty of work to be done,” she said. “Digitization, preservation and cataloging are costly and time-consuming endeavors that require professionals, software, equipment and hardware. While all of this work creates the need for more funding, it also allows patrons to access our materials anywhere at any time.”
Atkinson says efforts like Giving Tuesday and private support of University Archives and Special Collections ensures that Tech’s rich history is preserved for future generations of Golden Eagles.
“Look at what we have done, and imagine what more we can do!”