Meet Benna Vaughan, originally from Whitney, Texas, and Special Collections and Manuscripts Archivist, in our latest staff post giving you a peek into the day-to-day work of The Texas Collection:
In a nutshell, I get to work with some of the coolest stuff on campus. How often do you open a box and pull out a land grant signed by Stephen F. Austin? Or touch a set of pilot’s wings that were worn while flying in World War I? Or have someone call you up and say they found something you might like to have, such as an original 1894 Texas Cotton Palace medallion from the very first Texas Cotton Palace? Or handle a piece of Republic of Texas currency so thin you can see through it, and wonder where it has been and how many hands touched it and passed it on? I have a job where I can do this every day. I get to be in and amongst things that made history and that are now historical research materials. I am the Special Collections and Manuscripts Archivist at The Texas Collection, and it is my job to manage, preserve, and make available the wonderful special collections of Texana that come through our doors.
My days are varied. Most days I get to work with students and researchers alike on projects, from the smallest term paper to a full-sized book, commercial, or documentary. I might talk with donors who want to see their materials preserved, maintained, and used for research purposes. I attempt daily to process collections such as the Pat Neff collection, which took two years and the help of many graduate and undergraduate assistants to complete. I perform various inquiry tasks for researchers who contact me online, by phone, or in person. I sometimes give presentations to classes who will conduct research at The Texas Collection. In the fall, I also serve as an instructor for the University 1000 program for incoming freshmen students. I enjoy working with students as they begin their college careers and try to help them get adjusted to Baylor life. I guess you can say that for me everyday is a little different from the last.
Currently, I am beginning initial processing on the Roxy Grove papers. This includes research into her life and determining the condition of her records. (Are the pages brittle? How can we protect them? How are the records arranged?) I learned that Roxy Grove received two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree from Baylor. She began working at Baylor in 1926 and was the chair of the Music School for 17 years. Some of you may have classes in the building named after her: Roxy Grove Hall (third photo from top on the linked page). With every collection, I learn about the personal side of the individuals or organizations as I research and process their collections. For me, working on another person’s materials makes a connection with that person and allows you to discover the person, organization, or even place, through the things that are left behind.
But it is not always idyllic. Sometimes a collection will come in that was stored in a barn or a garage and the boxes contain bugs, and the records are in poor condition. When that happens, I get to be an exterminator. I pitch in to help with special projects and the administrative tasks that come with a special collections library. No matter what I’m doing, it is a great job, at a great place, and I am blessed to be here.
The Texas Collection turns 90 this year! But even though we’ve been at Baylor for so long, we realize people aren’t quite sure what goes on in a special collections library and archives. So over the course of 2013, we are featuring staff posts about our work at The Texas Collection. See other posts in the series here.