It’s difficult to write a first column for a first blog…how does one compress a significant amount of information in a relatively small space and in a pithy yet engaging manner? Most significantly, how does one choose which aspects of a very rich and varied collection (one that is managed and curated by an experienced and diverse group of individuals!) to emphasize? Where should I shine a spotlight, when there are so many spotlight-ready materials to highlight and describe? What’s my hook?
The hook is: there are many hooks here in the Special Collections Division at the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami. Fabulous and enticing snares abound to capture and enthrall both research experts and novice students. You may be interested in our largest and most prominent collections: the 1600+ boxes of materials delineating the lifespan of Pan American World Airlines, one of the world’s most glamorous and important businesses. You can spend hours, days, even years digging through fascinating menus (no charging for pretzels on a six-hour flight on Pan Am), photographs of smiling flight attendants in uniforms reflecting a variety of decades, designs for terminals, correspondence to and from Charles Lindbergh, and so much more. Or you can delve into our ever-expanding Conterculture Collection, which features zines, photographs of street art, local small publications, political ephemera, and other varied evidence of the fact that Miami is one of the most interesting, diverse, and challenging cities in the world.
Let’s not forget that one of our great strengths is the documentation of this beautiful and variegated place we call home. Our collections of rare books, archives, photographs, posters, maps and other manuscript materials documenting Florida and Miami are among the best in the world. Here both our University of Miami community and our local and global public (because we are open to the public, from Monday through Friday and from 9-4) can delve into the correspondence of the feisty and articulate eco-warrior Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, peruse a first edition of Theodor de Bry’s Brevis narratio eorum quae in Florida Americae provicia Gallis acciderunt…with its splendid engravings depicting the daily lives and activities of Native American tribes, or leaf through flyers offering glimpses of Miami Beach’s punk band scene (yes, there was and still is one).
So how, gentle reader, can I compress the visual and intellectual feasts offered by our many and varied collections into a few paragraphs?
I simply can’t. The best I can do is to make this offer: come and visit us. Take the elevator to the eighth floor, sign up at the front desk, and ask one of us to show you something beautiful. Depending on who you ask, you might be shown a unique artists’ book redolent of exotic spices, a delicate map showing a charmingly imprecise Florida (no wonder there were so many shipwrecks on our shoals in the early years of navigation to the region!), a book of spirit photography from the 1920s from our Jackie Gleason Collection, or a heartbreaking yet business-like register depicting the “increase by birth and decrease by death” of people living in slavery on a plantation in Tobago. I guarantee that you’ll be back, wanting to turn the pages of delicate scrapbooks depicting long-ago voyages to Caribbean islands, hand-written postcards by Federico Garcia Lorca, haunting images of Miami communities that have been obliterated by greed or well-intentioned urban renewal. We want you to visit, and we want you to return many times. The books, archives, photographs, and other treasures in our collections are here to be used. Come and use them.
Stay tuned for the next Notes from the Director’s Desk next semester!