History Lives in the Missouri Valley Room
The Missouri Valley Room is well known for its warm-colored confines, gently glowing lamps, and deep collection of historic texts and artifacts. But there's a lot more action on the Library's 5th floor than just scholars poring over microfilm.
For example, on a recent Wednesday, 140 girls from St. Teresa's Academy stormed the stacks to research projects for National History Day. Far from being disruptive, the students in their plaid skirts and hoodies provided a welcome jolt - living proof that the collection is being used.
"The Library is so vibrant, alive, and community-oriented. I feel like we're in the thick of things," says Eli Paul, manager of the Missouri Valley Special Collections. "That's wonderful, because history is usually on the fringe."
The school visit was coordinated by Special Collections Librarian Lucinda Adams, who arranged for three similar visits in preceding weeks. Thus far in November alone, 345 students from area schools have visited the Missouri Valley Room.
Field trips like these are a product of Adams' ongoing campaign to give presentations on MVSC in as many local classrooms as possible.
"I'll do a classroom visit to any teacher who asks me to," Adams says. "The hope is once they see how many resources we have, they'll bring their students in to the Library."
Students represent just one of the many user groups that routinely take advantage of the Missouri Valley Room's rich history resources.
There's also academic scholars, customers looking for information on their homes, people seeking to donate old family photographs, genealogists, and history buffs the world over calling in because of something they saw in the Digital Collection at kchistory.org.
All are assisted by eager and knowledgeable staff members including Jeremy Drouin, Sherrie Smith, John Horner, and Shannon Julien.
Sometimes MVSC customers even come from within the ranks of Library staff.
When her parents inherited some old photographs from a family friend, Eloise Daniel, support specialist in ITS, wanted to make sure those photos went to a good home. The pictures were of Western University in Kansas City, Kansas, which, until it closed in 1943, was the first college for African-Americans west of the Mississippi.
"I wanted to make sure the photos would be available to anyone who had an interest in them," Daniel says.
Thanks to additions like these, MVSC's customer base isn't the only thing that's growing. The collection, too, is a living, dynamic entity.
"We're not just waiting for items to walk in the door," Paul says.
Among the newest additions to Special Collections is the purchase of 21 historic, hand-drawn maps owned by the Gallup Map Company of Kansas City, one of the city's oldest businesses.
Dating from 1900 to 1950, the maps provide a breathtaking, granular view of the evolution of Kansas City from its earliest days. Some are up to six feet long.
One undated map shows a comprehensive grid of who owned properties in the River Market area. It includes familiar names such as William Volker, William T. Kemper, and Civil War general Hiram F. Devol. Another map, dated April 1950, shows "Moving Picture Theaters of Greater Kansas City."
An MVSC volunteer is currently working to manually clean all the maps to prepare them for digitization. The $21,000 used to purchase the maps came from an endowment created by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant.
Also in the digital sphere, MVSC is working closely with the Digital Projects team and Public Affairs to develop the online portal to Civil War resources, The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, Civil War on the Western Border, 1854-1865. (More on this project in upcoming issues of LibraryLand.)
MVSC staffers Adams and Horner have also been contributing posts to the Library's blog, KC Unbound, highlighting stories from local history and facets of the collection.
From producing web content to assisting walk-in customers, the Missouri Valley Room staff is all about making local history as easy to access as possible.
Paul says it's a mindset that permeates the entire Library system.
"I'm enthusiastic about how open and accommodating all our librarians are in terms of getting information out to the public," Paul says. "That fits in with what I like to do with history, which is get it out before the public."