Memoirs and Memories: Purdue University Archives and Special Collections


Welcome to the new blog for the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center.  We are pleased to launch this blog to increase awareness of the Archives and Special Collections, our unique collections, user-centered services, and exciting new initiatives.

The Archives and Special Collections at Purdue are closely connected to the University’s land grant mission and support the University’s overarching goals of learning, discovery, and engagement.  As a division of the Purdue Libraries, Archives and Special Collections contributes to the three main components of the Libraries strategic plan: learning, scholarly communication, and meeting global challenges.

We live in a time of great scrutiny over the costs of higher education and the need to demonstrate the value of all parts of a university in contributing towards its mission. Libraries, archives, and special collections are no different, although it can be challenging to put a monetary value on preservation of the cultural and historical record to advance research and learning. In this first blog post I’d like to provide a general overview of the ways the Archives and Special Collections division has aligned itself with the mission and goals of the Libraries.

ASC Entrance

Archives and Special Collections, located on the fourth floor of HSSE Library in Stewart Center.

Learning: Integration of Information Literacy

The faculty and staff who work in Archives and Special Collections actively contribute towards teaching and learning at Purdue. We collaborate with faculty in instructing students on how to conduct research using primary sources such as archives, manuscripts, and rare books. The archives reading room functions as an active laboratory space where students benefit from hands-on practice conducting research in a real-world research environment. Students who interact with our collections to analyze primary sources not only improve their problem-solving and critical thinking skills, they often make exciting discoveries that spark their research interests.

Each year, we host a growing number of students whose classes visit Archives and Special Collections, utilize the collections for class assignments and research papers, and, increasingly, publish their work in journals such as JPUR, the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research. Our philosophy is that the archives and special collections exist to be used by students, faculty and staff, and the public, and we encourage students to come back and pursue their own independent research projects outside of class. Amazingly, many of them do. Several of the students who have used the Archives and Special Collections holdings in their assignments have been so inspired by working with original primary sources that they have made the decision to pursue graduate degrees in library and information science, archival science, or museum studies.

Scholarly Communication: Increase Access To and Use of Scholarly Resources

As part of the Libraries strategic goal of scholarly communication, Archives and Special Collections increases access to and use of unique and distinctive collections. We actively acquire manuscripts and personal papers, university archives, and rare books that support teaching and research. The collections are built strategically, in alignment with Purdue’s disciplinary strengths and land grant mission. As such, the Archives and Special Collections has identified several areas of focus for the collections: the history of flight and space exploration; the history of women in Indiana and/or affiliated with Purdue; the history of psychoactive substances research; and Purdue University history. We are committed to making all of our collections as easy to locate and use as possible, and we do this in a variety of ways. First of all, when we acquire a collection we create an online accession record for it immediately, to allow researchers to find it as soon as possible. Secondly, we process the collection, taking steps to preserve items in the collection, arrange them, and create a finding aid or guide to the collection that enables researchers to see what is contained in the collection and if it is relevant to their research. The finding aid goes into our collections database, available online freely for anyone to find. Additionally, catalog records are created and contributed to WorldCat and the Libraries online catalog, to ensure a variety of routes for students and scholars to discover the collections.

Primary Sources

Archives and Speical Collections holds numerous primary and secondary sources.

In addition to these traditional accessioning and processing steps, the collections are regularly brought to students and used in class assignments. Collections are rotated for exhibits, allowing visitors to benefit from viewing displays of these rare materials. Finally, collections are increasingly being digitized, as resources allow, to provide researchers worldwide the opportunity to use the unique special collections at Purdue to meet their research, teaching, or personal needs. This enables scholars to access our collections regardless of geographic location and without the constraints of time and expense of traveling to use the collections. We have created several online exhibits, experimented with crowd sourcing the identification of photographs, and enabled users to add keywords and tags to scanned items in e-Archives, our digital library. We are committed to free and open access to our collections, and to prioritizing digitization efforts to meet the areas of highest research demand.

Increasingly, we are finding ways to publish materials in Archives and Special Collections to expose the collections to a wider audience. In collaboration with the Purdue University Press, we have worked to have materials in the collections used more frequently in the Press’s publications, digitized and linked content to print and e-books published by the Press, and collaborated on creation of an app for the Spacewalker biography of Jerry Ross, that links to digitized videos, images, and related materials from Ross’s personal papers in the Archives and Special Collections.

Preservation of the cultural and historical record is a key aspect of the work we do in Archives and Special Collections, and we take that role seriously, particularly as the majority of new manuscripts, archives, and images are created digitally today. These “born digital” items are inherently at risk due to the rapid obsolescence of software and file formats. Without active stewardship, many of today’s digital files will be unreadable to future generations. Some of the initiatives the Archives and Special Collections staff have undertaken to preserve important digital collections include creation of digital preservation policies and practices for working with born digital manuscript collections and university records; web archiving of critical university web sites, particularly the webpages of academic units that contain university publications, reports, minutes, and related content that needs to be accessible in the future; active membership and contribution of digital collections to MetaArchive; and data curation, with archivists as active partners in appraising and preserving data sets in PURR, the University’s research data repository.

I hope you enjoy our blog, and that you find something in our future posts that will spark your curiosity, engage your interests, and encourage you to interact with us and our collections. Please visit our website for more information.  If you have an idea for a future blog post, please feel free to contact us at

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