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Special Collections links students to Rexburg’s past

The Special Collections and Archives, located in the David O. McKay Library, links students to the past.

“Special Collections and Archives houses items unique to university history and campus curriculum, the history of the Upper Snake River Valley and changes in record keeping,” according to the Special Collections Web page.

The collections include ancient artifacts, letters, manuscripts, journals on pioneer history within the area and electronic records about campus events, according to the Web page.

Adam Luke, a librarian who manages archives in the special collections room, said most of the artifacts are donated by locals in and around the Rexburg area. Luke said Elder John H. Groberg, of the Presidency of the Quorum of the Seventy, is a native to Idaho Falls, and many of his family members still live near Rexburg, and are loaning some of their rare books and bibles to the special collections.

Luke said he and his co-workers’ duties include updating, maintaining and shelving the campus records and archives behind the display area, ensuring the documents into the proper place.

Luke said his favorite resource is the oral histories collection from people in the Snake River valley, after the Teton Dam flood, because the sources give a lot of insight of what happened in the area.

Luke said anyone with past ties to Rexburg can come in with a family and try to find direct sources on that person or event in their collection.

“You get a more complete picture,” Luke said. “You can kind of fill in those gaps of personality.”

Luke said genealogy work is a part of special collections, but it is separate from the Family History Center in the library.

Luke said the key purpose of the collections is to enable students and researchers to develop their research skills, primary source research and interpret those sources for themselves.

“That’s important because (primary source research) develops critical thinking skills and enables them to come up with a more complete picture of the past and really wrestle with how the past occurred,” Luke said.

Luke said the research process is complex and complicated.

Throughout the research process, Luke said students can find pieces of history, and employees can offer assistance to help students find the direct sources to connect the facts to create a clearer picture.

Luke said some teachers schedule tours to help students with class projects and explore specific items for students in various disciplines, such as communication, religion, humanities and English classes.

Emily Durland, a sophomore studying nursing, toured the special collections with her Book of Mormon class and saw bibles, manuscripts and one of the first copies of the Book of Mormon.

Durland said she particularly liked the original copy of the Book of Mormon and did not expect the school to have such neat things.

Durland said she listened to a presentation with her class tour and said she found the material was cohesive and found the employees were helpful as they went around and answered all the students’ questions.

To satisfy those with a need to touch, Luke said a unique aspect about the collections is that they allow students hands-on experience with most of the artifacts.

Unlike keeping their artifacts behind glass, Luke said the tour guides will pass around some artifacts. However, the collections employees must balance how they handle artifacts due to breakdown and preservation risks.

“Everyone likes our rare books and bibles,” Luke said. “That’s kind of the wow factor.”

Luke said anyone can request special items and get a close look by asking special collections employees; however, all items are not allowed to circulate outside the room.

Luke said, for the very rare things, the employees prefer people come in as a group so the employees do not have to keep bringing the artifact back and forth, in order to preserve it.

Luke said the oldest artifact they have is the Cuneiform peg from Mesopotamia 2100 B.C. over 4,000 years old, a clay cylinder put into buildings with indents of codes including information about the builder and the building.

Luke said the collections must be judicial about attaining antiques that were not stolen, along with making sure the items were acquired ethically.

The Special Collections and Archives are open Monday through Friday fom 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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