WMU News

Guide opens door to regional history collections

December 10, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- A new "Guide to Western Michigan University's Regional History Collections" is designed to pave the way for professional historians and local history buffs alike as they explore Michigan information about areas ranging from Arcadia Creek to Zeeland.

With entries noting Riverside Cemetery records, evidence of labor unrest at the Kalamazoo Corset Co., the business records of F.D. Garrison's Kalamazoo Mint Distillery, and the 1838 minutes of the Schoolcraft Temperance Society, the 342-page guide provides clues about the wildly diverse materials contained in the collections and housed in East Hall.

"I think this will facilitate research on this campus and be of interest to people throughout the Midwest," says Sharon L. Carlson, director of both the WMU Archives and the Regional History Collections. "The most compelling reason for producing this guide was the benefits that it would provide to the growing number of researchers with increasingly complex projects who use the collections."

The guide, published by WMU's New Issues Press, was edited by Carlson; Phyllis B. Burnham, the retired former curator of the collections; Suzanne Husband, current curator of the Collections; Pamela Jobin, a volunteer with the collections who is active in area genealogical work; and Charlene Renner, WMU professor of University libraries. Dr. Alan Brown, WMU professor emeritus of history and the University's first archivist, wrote the introduction.

The guide, Carlson points out, is organized to maximize the ease with which researchers can locate materials by providing three separate indexes -- a subject index, a personal name index and a corporation and organization index. The guide does not include the materials in the WMU Archives -- historical documents of and about the University -- or items such as photo collections for which finding aids already exist.

Carlson says since the Regional History Collections were established in 1960, use of the materials has gown to the point where more than 4,000 researchers from all over the world use the resources annually, with as many as 3,000 visiting the facility. While the vast majority of researchers are local or from Michigan, she says, in the last year alone, people from Germany and Japan and from California, Minnesota and Oklahoma have visited the facility to do research.

The Regional History Collections have been designated by the Michigan Historical Commission as a repository for the public records of 12 counties in Southwest Michigan. The counties are Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa, St. Joseph and Van Buren. Records from county, township and village governmental agencies are on deposit in the WMU facility from the State Archives. They include tax records, court records and township minutes, as well as selected naturalization records and federal and state census records.

"Outside of the state archives, we have the largest holding of government records in the state," Carlson says. "In total holdings, we have the fifth largest collection in the state."

Also part of the holdings are such items as manuscripts and diaries; area newspapers; city directories; real estate records; maps and atlases; genealogical periodicals; and family, church, cemetery business and organization records. All told, the collections include more than 10,000 books, 15,000 feet of manuscript and archive papers and about 3,500 reels of microfilm.

The newly published guide contains descriptions of each of the holdings, including information about the contents, scope and size of a given collection.

A guide to all of that material was originally considered a decade ago and moved into serious preparation three years ago, when, Carlson says, "our staff determined that it was essential to make available a resource that identified the extent of the University's thirty-year effort to collect, preserve and organize Southwest Michigan's regional history."

Carlson says her staff is not yet through with its efforts to make the collections accessible to researchers.

"Our holdings information is not yet online," she notes. "That's the next step. The information will be part of the Univerity's new, Web-based West CAT catalog/reference service."

The guide is available through New Issues Press for $35. A special introductory price offer of $28 is available for those who purchase books through Jan. 15. To order, call (616) 387-8743.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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