As the recycle guy at Mugar Library, people constantly ask me for directions. I assume it is because when people see me pushing around my blue cart filled with paper they think “Well this fellow has to know where things are if he has this giant bin full of paper. Why don’t I ask him?” Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind giving directions at all. In fact, I am probably one of the best people to ask for directions in the library seeing as how I have been in the library every day since my freshman year. But I digress. One of my favorite things to do is take the South Elevator (which is the first elevator you walk by) up to the fifth floor with someone else in the elevator. Then once they get out of the elevator and they don’t see any books they start to look back and forth in a very confused manner. Then they turn around, look at me with my bin, and open their mouths to speak. However, I have seen this happen so many times before so I answer before they can ask. “There aren’t any books here. This is the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. You have to take the stairs down to the 4th floor, cross to the North elevator, and then go up to the 5th floor there to get to the stacks.” The person then smiles and goes on their merry way leaving me to my recycling. Odds are that will be the last time this person ever steps foot into HGARC (pronounced Huh-Gark) which is very upsetting. Why is this upsetting? Well, you just keep asking all the right questions.
The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, located on the fifth floor of Mugar Library, is a wonderful place. It contains collections of artifacts ranging from Presidential Letters to Fred Astaire’s dancing shoes. Furthermore, located in this small area are many people who have dedicated their lives to locating these archives and preserving them so that generations to come can enjoy them. These people are friendly and knowledgeable about many different subjects and just want to help people learn. But I didn’t always know this. At first, I was a skeptic. I saw that the HGARC would often put some of the archives on display in glass cases around the library and I would peruse them occasionally, interested in who Nikki Giovanni was or who took this picture of Marilyn Monroe. However, I just assumed that all these artifacts were kept in a safe that was locked away and only taken out to be on display on certain special occasions. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how wrong I was.
The HGARC often has events that they advertise around campus. Most recently, they had an event called “Theodore Roosevelt and the American Presidency.” Now, I like Mr. Roosevelt just as much as the next guy and seeing as how I interact with the people in HGARC daily and have yet to go to an event I figured that my second semester senior year is as good a time as any to go. Therefore, I went to the event expecting to listen to some professor blabber on about Theodore Roosevelt and his policies and other boring things. I was extremely wrong. When I walked up into HGARC, I was met with smiling faces and a nice pair of cotton gloves. “What do I need these for?” I asked. “This is to prevent you from getting oils on the archives.” Confused, I took the gloves and walked into the back portion of the HGARC. I was shocked at what I saw. There were five tables covered with artifacts all having to do with Teddy Roosevelt. These included personal handwritten letters from TR to his family and friends as well as rough drafts of his books with notes written in the margins. For the first 15 minutes I walked around the room with my hands at my sides, just looking at the artifacts on the table not daring to touch, thinking that it wasn’t allowed. Then Alex Rankin, assistant director for acquisitions at HGARC, began to speak about Roosevelt, specifically what all the artifacts on the tables were. As he discussed the artifacts, he would pick them up and read off them. I was mortified. To me this was just as bad as trying to touch the fossils at the museum (PS Don’t do it. It’s bad news bears. Especially if it breaks.)
After Mr. Rankin had finished, he handed the room over to William Tilchin, a Professor of Social Sciences at CGS, who began to discuss Theodore Roosevelt with such personal passion, it was as if Professor Tilchin and TR were friends and he was reminiscing about the good old days. He discussed the finer points of Roosevelt’s presidency, such as his Nobel Peace Prize and foreign policy, as well as aspects of his personal life, such as his ranches and family. Finally, when the Professor finished, Mr. Rankin came back and told us that we were now free to look at the artifacts as we pleased and we could pick up and look at anything we wanted. I was like a kid in a candy shop. I had always wanted to touch stuff in a museum but couldn’t. Now I was able to hold a letter from Roosevelt to his best friend and read about how he had shot two deer with one bullet. I was so happy. I spent over an hour looking at these archives and I was one of the last two people to leave. As I walked out, I thanked Mr. Rankin and said that it was wonderful that they had events like this where people can come and handle the archives. He responded that anyone could come into the center and look at the archives as long as they make an appointment. He continued to discuss how this is great for students working on research papers because these are primary sources, which gives the students first-hand knowledge on the topic they are researching. This was the icing on the cake to a wonderful experience. It was at this time that I knew I would never come and recycle the paper in HGARC the same ever again.
It’s a shame that most people only go to the HGARC because they are lost looking for books. As I said before it is a wonderful place with so many amazing collections that students can access at any time. In essence, this place is like a museum but the cool kind of museum where you get to do hands on things. I strongly suggest attending one of the many events at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center or even going up there to look at archives that interest you personally. It’s a real asset to us as students and I feel that we should take full advantage of it. When you get there, tell them Cody sent you.
For more information about the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center go to their website at: http://www.bu.edu/dbin/archives/index.php