Like two hustling trains on parallel tracks, the University Archives and the University of Illinois Alumni Association have pursued their destinations side by side.
Now, a new agreement will put the two entities on the same line in complementary missions to preserve and extol the history of the University of Illinois.
What spurred the coupling of these two powerful engines? The new outlook was precipitated by the University of Illinois Welcome Center, set to open in May 2018, featuring a sprawling, interactive exhibit of photographs, videos, artifacts, oral histories, and more chronicling of the student experience. To stock the enterprise, located at the Alice Campbell Alumni
Center—and to produce a rotation of new displays— involves a tremendous amount of historical material.
While the Archives serves to assemble the history of campus, it’s not the only entity which has recorded its heritage. Calling the Alumni Association’s holdings “a real treasure trove,” Student Life and Culture Archivist Ellen Swain notes “that the Association has written continuously about University events and alumni since 1907, starting with The Alumni Quarterly and Fortnightly News and evolving to the present-day Illinois Alumni magazine. In addition to its news archives, the Alumni Association possesses literally thousands of hard-copy photographs (mostly used in conjunction with its publications).
These are the materials the University Archives— established in 1963—is interested in adding to its collection; conversely, the Alumni Association is eager to tap into Archives documents and expertise.
“It’s really a symbiotic relationship,” said Ryan Ross, who coordinates the Alumni Association’s history and traditions programs and is supervising the Welcome Center’s genesis. “The Archives is preserving and making accessible the heritage of the university to researchers, and weare preserving and making accessible the university’s heritage to a wide audience. So we really complement what each of us is doing.”
As Welcome Center exhibits are refreshed several times a year, Archives and the Alumni Association will work together in reaching out to university units and alumni to collect additional materials. And while the Center’s displays may pique the initial interest of its visitors—from prospective students and faculty to current students, alumni, and campus and community groups—they can also reference campus sites where further information is available.
The collaboration offers the Center the opportunity to use items on loan from the Archives, as well as fill gaps in Archives holdings. The Archives, in turn, benefits as repository and permanent home for newly-collected materials, and lends gravitas to the Welcome Center initiative. “Given the long history of classroom, scholarly, and public user research in the Archives’ holdings of records created by the Alumni Association, we are excited about this new collaboration,” University Archivist William Maher said.
“As long as we have a Welcome Center on campus, the Archives is going to be a vital part of making it successful,” Ross said. “We’ll always be in need of new materials to put on display to tell those stories, which is why this relationship that we’ve formed with Archives is so important.”
Important indeed. Welcome aboard.