Library launches digital archives

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Sybil Novinski has directed the collection and expansion of the archives since their conception. Photo by Patrick Goodman.

The University of Dallas archives are going digital, a long step away from the day when, 14 years ago, Sybil Novinski began collecting file boxes, used furniture and groundhog heads into the ex-loading dock of the library.

Sitting proudly in the display case just inside the Archives doorway is the UD groundhog head, along with T-shirts, a chalice and paten, and various other unexpected and un-paperlike items.

“It’s not all paperwork,” chief archivist Shelley Gayler said. “No. Just anything … one-of-a-kind items that possibly never can be replaced.”  

She explained that the archives are about preserving the history and social climate of UD.

“If you’re a student here and have memories, [the archives] matter” Gayler said.  

By preserving this history, both Gayler and Novinsky expressed hopes for the wider relevance of the archives:

“One day it will expand into a kind of ‘Catholic cultural center,’ ” Novinski said in an email.

Gayler wants to help record the story of Catholicism in the U.S.  

As these hopes slowly germinate, the archives have certainly become an object of interest for Texas historians, if not specifically Catholic ones.

On her death, the great pioneer of Texas elegance and cuisine, Helen Corbitt, left half of her estate to UD. This includes everything from personal china and furniture — some of which is on display in the library — to correspondence with Texas notables like President Lyndon B. Johnson, First Lady Johnson and Sam Rayburn.

This year, the University of North Texas at Dallas (UNT) awarded a grant providing for the digitalization of the Corbitt records into the “Portal to Texas History,” an online keyword search system, which would allow researchers instant and easy access instead of hours of file box sleuthing.

Since the non-documentary nature of many of the items prevents full digitalization, however, the Archives plans to compensate by launching online photo exhibits through the UD library webpage.

With the UNT portal this academic year, and the library digital exhibit next, the archives has still bigger fish to fry after that.

“We have succeeded in organizing to the point where we can respond to requests about former professors and lecturers and UD events from literally all over the world,” Novinski said in an email. “[W]ith the help of fabulous student workers, we collect tons of material and have been able to scan and digitize a considerable amount.”  

Although Novinski retired this past Thursday, she has left the archives in the capable hands of Gayler, who is simultaneously supervising the renovation of the archive space and the continued cataloguing of Novinski’s collection, as well as the file boxes which are now sent to her as a matter of course from offices across campus. Much of this information, too, will eventually make its way into digital copy. In the meantime, she encourages those interested in UD history and campus culture to come visit.

“We’ll pull boxes, and you never know, you may find a groundhog head,” Gayler said.

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