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Archive for Monday, January 27, 1992

ARCHIVISTS FILE PIECES OF KU HISTORY

January 27, 1992

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Kansas University archivist John Nugent gets a kick out of people who stumble across an old Jayhawker yearbook and get visions of riches and glory.

"They pick up one at a garage sale or flea market," he said. "They say, `We've got a Jayhawker from 1901. How much will you give us for it?' I just tell them we have about 20 copies."

The yearbooks are part of the archives' collection of books, office records, negatives, photographs, film reels, microfilm, sound tapes, videotape and architectural drawings. They take up about 20,000 cubic feet of space, the equivalent of 13,500 file drawers,

Located on the top floor of Spencer Research Library, the archives formally has been in existence since 1969. David Heron, then director of university libraries, was the guiding force behind its creation.

The university's three-member archives staff Nugent, Ned Kehde and Barry Bunch are responsible for deciding what to keep and what to throw away.

"ANY organization turns out a lot of trash, a lot of paper," Nugent said. "Somebody's got to decide what to pitch."

The trio at KU is experienced. All have been working in Spencer for more than 10 years.

"Longevity makes a difference," Kehde said. "You really do get a feel for what's important."

Bunch said items are occasionally thrown out that someone wants later, but that doesn't happen often.

The university's philosophy of organizing the collection has been simple, Nugert said.

"You put somebody in charge of it full time and let them make the decision," he said. "You can't have people second guessing all the time."

NUGENT said the key is to retain one-of-a-kind items.

"Letters the chancellor writes, you're never going to find them anywhere else," he said. "Publications you can probably find other places, but you better get unique correspondence and reports. Things that aren't published."

Kehde said mistakes also can be made by keeping something that really should be thrown away.

"We could go back there and find 10 of those things right now," he said.

KU's archivists, all former librarians, don't spend time writing about the historical significance of items in the collection.

"We work to make the materials available to anybody who wants to do a write-up on university history," Bunch said.

BUNCH said archivists at KU and other universities must work faster than they did 20 years ago because the schools have grown and generate more material.

"There are only three of us here. We couldn't handle it if absolutely everybody gave us everything," he said. "That's why we focus on the central office. Almost everything that goes on is represented in their files."

Nugent said some items locked away in two file cabinets are off limits to prying eyes. It's classified, top secret.

"Most of that stuff is mundane," he said. "It isn't that exciting."

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