Storing history for future academic research

Library History Archives

Riley Youngman, News Contributor

Towering windows stretching from waist height to the ceiling allow for the sun to permeate the Douglas Strain Reading Room on an unordinary warm winter morning in Corvallis and fill the space with a bright, natural glow.

Two older gentleman sit at one of the four tables in the area carefully examining papers pulled from a royal blue document holder, silently looking over decades worth of information, pausing every now and then to quickly exchange findings.

Hundreds of books, documents, and pictures are perched silently behind glass in the foyer as students gather to explore the “The Nuclear Age: Seventy Years of Peril and Hope” exhibit.

In addition to the special exhibit, the Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC), located on the fifth floor of the Valley Library on the OSU campus, aims to enrich research and teaching through a large collection of historical documents, photographs, and records.

“Our mission is to promote research using primary historical sources,” said Larry Landis, the SCARC director.

The SCARC is home to over 540,000 historical pictures, as well as hundreds of thousands of documents, that cover a wide array of topics relating to OSU and the state of Oregon.

Created in 2011 after the OSU Archives merged with the OSU Special Collections, Landis said the SCARC was a natural merger between the two entities. The Special Collections, established in 1961, operated with a similar mission to the relatively newer Archives, which was established in 1986. This allowed for a seamless transition into what is now the SCARC according to Landis.

Landis has been the director of the SCARC since its foundation, but had previously been the head of the OSU Archives since 1996. Landis said his passion for history, mixed with a case of being in the right place at the right time, lead to his current role with the SCARC.

“I love history, the joy of primary sources, the joy of discovery and finding what you are looking for,” Landis said. “Helping someone and finding what they are looking for, a student, a scholar, a community member is what keeps me coming back.”

The SCARC also assists those that need a push in the right direction in their research. The faculty is there to provide information as well as direct researchers to collections that pertain to relevant topics.

Landis said a lot of students discover the SCARC through classes. In their latest analysis, the SCARC estimates that nearly 40 percent of the people that use the space are OSU students, the largest demographic of users overall. This is something that Landis is proud of.

Benton Wilbur, a sophomore in pre-business, has used the Archives in the past to help with research for school projects.

“It was very useful for the class I was in and the project I was working on to be able to go to the archives and use the resources there,” Wilbur said. “I first found out about the archives because of a U-Engage class I was in last fall term.”

The SCARC puts up two special displays a year in the foyer at the entrance to the reading room to highlight special collections and material. Currently, ‘Nuclear Age: Seventy Years of Peril and Hope’ focuses on the numerous materials pertaining to nuclear history and activity that the SCARC possesses.

According to Landis, the exhibit is the foremost collection of nuclear history in the western United States. The SCARC has seen graduate students from across the nation come to view and use this collection for studies, as well as many others, Landis noted.

Kolby Owens, a freshman in pre-mechanical engineering discovered the SCARC through a class as well.

“I thought the Archives were a very unique resource, that I did not know existed at OSU,” Owens said. “It will be very useful when the time comes to write my thesis later on down the road.”

Landis encourages people to come in and research a topic that interests them.

The SCARC works constantly to digitize material to be made available online, but due to lack of space and resources, it focuses primarily on digitizing “high need” and “high risk” collections. While there is an expansive amount of material online, the majority of material resides on site in the SCARC.

On a more local level, the SCARC has programs that focus on more specific topics.

“Other initiatives we have include the Oregon Multicultural Archives, which is about ten years old, documents and tells the story of underrepresented groups in Oregon, and Oregon State University,” Landis said, referencing the inclusion of groups such as Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and more recently those in the LGBTQ+ community.

In addition, the Hops and Brewing Archives highlights the deep history of hops research and OSU’s contribution to the craft brewing industry. Both initiatives have full time faculty members that work to expand and collect material pertaining to the collections.

The SCARC has worked with major archives and museums in the past, most notably the Smithsonian Museum. Material has been borrowed and used to fill displays in the foyer, as well as material being lent out for use in displays around the country.

“We’ve got a great program here, we’ve got great faculty and staff, and great student workers that really make it a viable program and we love helping people, we love helping them make those discoveries that add to their knowledge, and in turn add to our knowledge,” Landis said. “That’s what it’s all about — that process of discovery.