Founded in 1876 on the campus of Richmond College (University of Richmond), the Virginia Baptist Historical Society (VBHS) has housed and managed the University Archives for the University of Richmond (UR) since 1981. This long relationship has proved beneficial to both organizations and continues to evolve as the emphasis on and importance of original source materials to research increases.
VBHS is located in a wing of Boatwright Memorial Library (BML). VBHS contains a large collection of books, manuscripts, and other materials related to Baptist history. Under a contractual agreement, research services for the University Archives are provided to students, faculty, staff, alumni, and anyone interested in the history, official records, and cultural life of the 180-year-old institution. Though the University Archives was established in the library by the University of Richmond’s Board of Trustees in 1975, little was done with the collection until Dennis Robison, the university librarian, and Fred Anderson, executive director of VBHS, came together to work out a special agreement with University of Richmond administration to transfer the archives from the library to VBHS. At the time, this collaboration was a winwin situation, since both institutions shared much of the same history. The university agreed to pay VBHS for housing, preserving, and providing research services for its archives.
Since the original agreement was negotiated, UR and the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the parent organization for VBHS, changed their relationship. A special agreement between VBHS and UR to continue to administer the University Archives was reaffirmed in 1999. The unique ties and relationships between the library staffs of BML and VBHS also continued to grow and develop as both institutions gained in prominence and reputation at the state and national levels. Boatwright public service and reference staff constantly refer UR students with class assignments, or others with questions concerning the history of the institution, to the University Archives resources in VBHS. Library staff can often be heard directing students and other researchers to the VBHS wing of Boatwright Library by saying it is “just to your left and up the path from the tower.”
Users are encouraged to seek the expertise of Fred Anderson, VBHS director and university archivist, or Darlene Slater Herod, research assistant. Over the years, both individuals have developed encyclopedic memories concerning UR and its history and people. Herod is a graduate of the university and has a keen memory of its alumni and faculty and their roles in building UR. Though most of the archives research is accomplished through walk-in appointments, scheduled individual research appointments are encouraged because of VBHS staffing limitations. Warm and friendly part-time VBHS staffer Elsie Richards is usually the first person most students encounter when they come to visit VBHS/University Archives or telephone for an appointment. Both telephoning ahead for appointments and sending written requests by mail are encouraged. Email research is also available, but more limited. Fred Anderson has reported that well over 3,000 individual researchers have used the University Archives resources since 1981. In-house archives usage is expected to expand greatly in the coming years with the increased emphasis in the university curriculum for students to participate in and use primary sources in undergraduate research. The resources and services of the archives will play an increasingly vital role for this part of their academic work.
Real collaboration between the library staffs of VBHS/University Archives and Boatwright Library over the years has often been limited. Some of these efforts were limited to things such as Boatwright Library staff encouraging faculty and staff or alumni to deposit their individual or departmental records with VBHS/University Archives. Occasionally the two organizations have worked together on exhibits for special university events or celebrations. Copies of various university publications, programs, and documents have been forwarded through the library for deposit in VBHS/University Archives. No reciprocal union cataloging or published finding aids have been created to make the resources of the University Archives available for the wider public due to lack of funding. Possible NEH and other grants have been considered over the years as a way to make this happen, but without success.
Discussion about more collaboration between the library and VBHS/University Archives began in earnest when the university and library began to adopt the new digital technologies in all areas and departments of the institution. Inhouse and outsourced microfilming of certain publications had, for many years, been a regular part of the preservation practices of VBHS/University Archives. In 2003, as a part of the preparation for the 175th anniversary of the University of Richmond, some special funds were approved by UR through the vice president for information services to create a digital database of the Collegian, UR’s student newspaper. The library staff, working with VBHS/University Archives staff, outsourced the microfilm archives of the Collegian, and a searchable full-text database was created for the years 1914–2003 at http://collegian.richmond.edu/gsdl/html. A major record of the history of the university was then made available to anyone through the library’s website. Chris Kemp, head of digital initiatives in the library, has subsequently made major improvements to the online Collegian. Plans are afoot to add the remaining years on a regular basis to the public digital archive.
Further collaboration with VBHS/University Archives continued in 2007, as Kemp and his staff, Crista LaPrade, Marion Dieterich, and student assistants took the Papers of President Frederic Boatwright, housed within VBHS/University Archives, and digitized them for general searching (http://urhistory.richmond.edu/electronic.html). This is a valuable primary source for educational history, since Boatwright served as president of the university from 1895–1946, a pivotal period in the university’s history and one of the longest tenures in all of American higher education.
Late last spring, discussions began between the library and VBHS/University Archives to create a joint artifacts and digital online exhibition to celebrate the opening of the new on-campus stadium for UR in the fall of 2010. Mike Whitt, special projects assistant, and Fred Anderson from VBHS/University Archives organized and curated a large exhibit of sports materials from the archives entitled “UR Football Comes Home.” This timely and fun exhibit of historical artifacts, photographs, programs, letters, and other material is housed in eight display cases on the second floor of Boatwright Library. Chris Kemp and his staff worked with Andy Morton, the Boatwright Library web technologies librarian, to create an online exhibit with the digital images from the regular library exhibit. This exhibit is accessible through the library’s main webpage at http://news.richmond.edu/news/article/library/2211/ur-footballcomes-home-archival-exhibit.html. For the first time, a major exhibition of historical materials from the University Archives was made available simultaneously on the web and in the library, complementing and placing it in the historical context of the new stadium.
Kemp and his staff are now working with VBHS/University Archives and the university administration to digitize important records of the institution dating back to the early nineteenth century. The university will soon be celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of its move to the current Westhampton location. It is expected that these new digital resources will be an important and exciting part of this upcoming celebration.
Through the increased use of digital technologies and building on these cooperative efforts, VBHS/University Archives and Boatwright Library hope to provide an ever-increasing treasury of important institutional documents and artifacts that will provide future scholars and researchers with important original primary source materials.
For additional information about research materials available through the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, please go to http://www.baptistheritage.org/.
For access to Boatwright Library’s digital collections, visit http://library.richmond.edu/digital/index.html.
Alley, John Reuben. University of Richmond. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010.
Alley, Reuben E. History of the University of Richmond, 1830–1971. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1977.
University Archives. Annual Reports to the University Librarian. Richmond: University of Richmond, 1998-
Virginia Baptist Historical Society. A Ministry through History: The Story of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies. Richmond: Virginia Baptist Historical Society, 2001.