A peek into the Watzek Special Collections

A 19th century printing press found in the Watzek Library Special Collection. JORDAN ST. PETER/ PIONEER LOG

By NATALIE RICH/// Staff Writer

To most students, the Special Collections section of Watzek Library is a mystery. The room, while centrally located, is closed off by fire-resistant, bulletproof doors and its dim interior lighting provides a darker contrast against the rest of library. However, according to Zach Selley, Associate Head of Special Collections for the College Archives, this should not be the case.

“It’s a resource for the students,” said Selley. “We’re more than happy to help with research inquiries or thesis information, to support your classes.”

Lewis & Clark’s Special Collections section in Watzek has been developed over the last twenty-five years. Before that, the Special Collections consisted primarily of Latin texts that served as supplements for students who were studying the language.  Since then, the Special Collections department chose several focal points to build the Archives upon.

“Primarily, [the collection holds] all of the literature and material related to the Lewis and Clark expedition, and we’ve expanded out into other Northwest history, US history, and literature and poetry. So, we have one of the largest fine press and poetry collections in the United States,” Selley said. “[The Lewis and Clark literature] wasn’t chosen because of the name of the college, it was chosen because there was no one in the Northwest who was collecting that material … the collections we chose supported local interest. A lot of times you see these holes, nobody’s collecting these voices. You don’t want to collect something that the person down the road is collecting.”

Selley and Hannah Crumme are two of the “two and a half” employees in the Special Collections section (the third employee is only part-time, hence, “a half”). Crumme is a new hire, having only been at LC since Thursday, April 14th, 2016. Before, Crumme worked at the National Archives of Great Britain, designing and curating an exhibition around Shakespeare’s death and the documents about him.

The duties of Special Collections employees include building and developing collections.This involves purchasing pieces for the collection, or working with a professor to build the collection. One such professor is Mary Szybist, Professor of English. The Special Collections room is home to a beautiful  printing press, a Chandler Price press made in the 1800s. It was gifted by the son of William Stafford, who was a famous poet and teacher at LC. The press was acquired in the eighties, then sat dormant for years. Two years ago, Selley found it and got it fixed. It is now fully functional and students in Professor Szybist’s senior poetry class are permitted to use the press to print their own poems through a process called “broadside printing.”

“They’re single, individual leaf poems…” Selley said. “A cross between an artist’s work, a poet’s work, and the printer’s work.”

In addition to the printing press, Selley reiterated that while everything in the Special Collections and Archives is for the students, certain pieces are too fragile to be used. One such piece is a rare 1814 edition of a journal detailing the Lewis and Clark expedition that was published by the government. Special Collections has one of the nine known copies, and the map inside it is too fragile to remove, so students can’t access that piece directly. However, almost everything else is available for seniors writing their theses, students doing projects, or just curious scholars.

As for the future, Crumme was cautious to reveal anything specific.

“I’m working on some things, I don’t want to say what yet…I’m interested in expanding our literary collections, so I’m thinking about a few Northwest authors and approaching them to see if they’re interested in donating their drafts to the archives,” she said.

The Special Collections is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. almost every weekday.

“Come by if you need help,” said Selley. “Or if you just need a really quiet place to study.”

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