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Now on Display! A History of Special Collections

Co-curated by Lyuba Basin and Rachel Ernst
Level 4, Special Collections Exhibition Gallery

J. Willard Marriott, The University of Utah
August 21, 2023 through December 8, 2023

For the curators, archivists, and librarians working in Special Collections Divisions across the state and the country, maintaining a historical record through the collection of manuscripts, multimedia, and printed forms is not only important to their work, but also necessary to their institutions. Despite all of this, we are often unaware of the need to maintain our own records for future use.

A History of Special Collections is an exhibition that considers the archival history of the archives themselves, and demonstrates the importance of developing and maintaining such institutional knowledge.

A New Family Encyclopedia: Or Compendium of Universal Knowledge…
Charles A. Goodrich
T. Belknap, 1834
AG5 G6 1834

The origins of the Special Collections Division at the J. Willard Marriott Library can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century, with the founding of both the University of Deseret and the Utah Territorial Library.

In 1941, Leonard H. Kirkpatrick became the Head Librarian at the University Library and for the next two decades, he dealt with the tumultuous changes brought on by both The Great Depression and World War II. Fortunately for Kirkpatrick A. Ray Olpin became the University President at just the right time, bringing with him a new vision which saw the Library as the center of both research and educational programs, asserting that “a great school without a great library is an impossibility.”

L. H. Kirkpatrick with microfilm
University of Utah Archival Photograph Collection, 1890s-1980s.
P0305 – Fd 1: No 006

Kirkpatrick and his assistant, Ralph D. Thomson, translated President Olpin’s vision for the University into action with the official beginning of the Utah Room. Through the development of special grants, the Library was able to seek out and purchase notable collections related to Utah history.

The first of its kind was purchased in 1946, when a fund of $5,000 was allotted to the Library for the acquisition of the John A. Widtsoe Collection of Mormon Americana.  A separate room with its own catalog formally opened in room 101 of the Thomas Building. Widtsoe’s daughter, Anna Widtsoe Wallace, was perhaps the only other person truly familiar with the Widtsoe collection and was selected to supervise the newly opened Treasure Room, or  Utah Room, as it would later be called.

From the early antecedents in the Utah Room to the most contemporary iteration, this exhibition traces the trajectory and evolution of the Special Collections Division at the Marriott Library over the last seven decades. Join us in exploring the unique holdings from each of the departments – now on display in the Special Collections Exhibition Gallery on Level 4. What’s revealed is a story of dedication, scholarship, and commitment to research and access.

  • Alexander Jolley
    Posted at 17:00h, 22 August Reply

    It looks a-MAZE-ing!!!! I especially love the preservation case, the Middle East case, and the Big Case with all the portraits.

    Posted at 12:22h, 23 August Reply

    It looks absolutely incredible, congratulations. I only wish I could explore it in more detail physically!

  • Pingback:Book of the Week – A Coptic Conundrum |
    Posted at 15:45h, 09 October Reply

    […] the name of Western Americana, Rare Books, and University Archives was changed to “Special Collections” in 1971, it reflected a major shift in the holdings. In addition to the growing emphasis of rare […]

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