West Georgia Voices
Previously Published in the Times-Georgian
Bob's Papers and the Field of Dreams
Bob Barr stopped by the library recently. You remember Bob, the presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party in 2008, a former Republican U.S. Congressman and prosecutor for Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. Bob was in Carrollton for a speaking engagement with the West Georgia Trial Lawyers Association. While he was in town, Bob wanted to talk with the Ingram Library and Special Collections staff about his papers, which he has deposited at the University of West Georgia. "Papers” to the layman mean several hundred boxes filled with the contents of file cabinets from his offices in Washington, DC, and Georgia.
Bob’s papers are waiting for the day they are brought out of storage, sorted and sifted and cataloged, in hopes that researchers of the future will look through them and find meaningful evidence of American and Georgia political history. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources in staff or supplies to perform this work, and we don’t foresee increased staffing or budgets in the current economic situation.
As a former presidential candidate, Bob understands these issues, and he understands the economy. As the archivist for the Special Collections department at the university, I receive requests from researchers at universities all over the country – University of North Florida, William & Mary, Boston College and Penn State are recent ones. Sometimes, it’s a doctoral student, sometimes a professor working on a book related to the rise of a conservative congress in the 1990s. Bob’s papers, along with our collection of Newt Gingrich’s papers and the Tom Murphy collection to name a few, would give many scholars months of happy reading. But first we must process them.
No one would claim that these are dire necessities. We are not, after all, performing brain surgery in the backrooms of our archives. But what a brain treat for scholars if these materials, and our other collections too numerous to mention, were available to students, faculty and public researchers. The “Field of Dreams” model is at work in the world of Special Collections – if you build it, they will come. And if they come, the visibility of the university is heightened when papers and books are published citing the Barr or Gingrich or Murphy collections. When the university’s reputation is showcased, it creates other opportunities for growth of the university and the community, not necessarily related to Special Collections.
The challenge is how to build it so they will come. At Ingram Library, we have new giving opportunities related to the $8 million appropriation from the state Legislature to renovate the library building. We have committed to an exhibit space interpreting Speaker Tom Murphy’s Georgia political career. In other words, we have started to build it so they will come. But $8 million is eaten up quickly when renovation must include a new elevator, ADA compliant features and shelving.
Giving opportunities (as the gentle fundraisers call them) abound. The legislative money won’t pay for furniture or archival shelving or the design firm to construct a permanent exhibit on Georgia’s political history. It won’t establish an endowment to procure speakers and programs and scholarships supporting study and research in political and public history. The university, however, is collecting charitable contributions under the Thomas Murphy Memorial Fund to be used for such purposes.
If I may, let me become the gentle fundraiser and ask for the community’s support. Our goal is to build a showcase of Georgia political and public history in Ingram Library, supporting not only the national scholars, but drawing in our own students who want to become political scientists, historians and archivists. Our goal includes a “center” for civic engagement that encompasses these programs. In the Field of Dreams analogy, we’ve just thrown out the first pitch. Play ball!
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