This blog post was written by Collections Services Archivist Amanda Fisher.
With the passage of time, some anniversaries come and go with little to no recognition. Yet some anniversaries are milestones worthy of celebration and reflection. Today is one such feat as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the W. R. Poage Legislative Library!
Since its opening on September 21, 1979, the Poage Library has experienced many transformations. This evolution is fitting, considering W. R. Poage’s statement at the dedication, “I hope we never complete this library, but make it a living institution with continuous additions.” Built to house congressional collections for research, including that of namesake W. R. “Bob” Poage, Poage Library has acquired 12 congressional collections, 13 state collections including the papers of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, 5 judicial collections, 1 diplomatic collection, congressional staff collections, JFK research, AND we hope to continue collecting more! Initially, the library also opened its doors to host the graduate school. Space on the second floor accommodated both the graduate school administrative offices and carrels for individual study.
In 2004, at the 25th Anniversary Celebration, Rep. Alan Steelman, former Poage staffer Fowler West, and Judge Jack Hightower discussed the need to financially support the Library. As the story goes, they were standing around, discussing the formation of a friends’ group, and aptly named themselves “The Standing Committee.” The establishment of this committee has proven vital to the health of the Poage Library. Many accomplishments have been made possible because of the members’ generous support. 2004 also marked the opening of the Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock Archive. A gala held at the Mayborn Museum was attended by former Bullock staffers from his time in the Comptroller’s office as well as his Lt. Gov. staff. Notable politicians along with family and friends came to celebrate Bullock’s life and work.
In 2009, Poage Library built the Hightower Book Vault, a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment to showcase the special collections of Jack Hightower, Bob Poage, and other rare books. Hightower’s collection holds special significance, because the books have been signed by authors and book subjects. Some of the most interesting volumes in the collection contain presidential signatures. To continue fostering collections maintenance, in 2013, Poage Library added compact shelving to improve collections storage space.
Eventually, the graduate school moved out and the Center for Global Education (CGE) moved in, providing resources to international students and students studying abroad. While Poage Library staff enjoyed sharing space with the CGE, 2016 provided an opportunity for the latter to move to their own space. The library was presented with an exciting opportunity to establish a space in support of graduate research. The newly-cleared space for the Graduate Research Center received a major facelift. Today, the GRC offers the Pattie Orr Graduate Research Commons, affectionately known as the “Incubator” for quiet study, collaboration rooms for group work, the Viz Studio with its large screen for data visualization, and the recently added Collaboration Plus featuring equipment for professional interviews.
At the same time the GRC opened in 2016, the John and J.D. Dowdy Conference Room was added, and the former exhibit hall was renovated to serve as a reading room. New tables with lighting and power were installed to create a quiet study and research space apart from the collections. This bittersweet change allowed Poage Library to maintain a secure and dedicated collections space and provide an increased public service point, although exhibit space decreased. By summer 2020, however, this lack of exhibitions will be solved with a permanent exhibit addition to the foyer. This professionally-designed exhibit will incorporate personal stories from the collections to answer the questions: What does it mean to be a public servant? What are the paths to public service? What does civic engagement look like?
Perhaps one of the most important transformational aspects of Poage Library is the incredible partnerships it maintains. Today, all public spaces within Poage Library have been updated with new carpet and paint except for the room used by BetterTogetherBU. Fortunately, this space will be renovated in December. BetterTogetherBU is an on-campus, interfaith group that utilizes space in the Poage Library to meet and dialogue, important skills we desperately need today. Poage Library also partners with the School of Education to provide a day of iCivics lessons to 5th-9th grade students at Poage Library during iEngage camp. These students have been learning about civics using Poage Library materials each summer since 2012. Lesson plans and materials are curated by the Dowdy Endowed Summer Intern. Poage Library also fosters dialogue through partnerships with the Public Deliberation Initiative and hosts the W. R. Poage Distinguished Chair of Public Service, former Rep. Chet Edwards, to meet with students and teach classes on campus twice a semester. Lastly, Poage Library hosts a Teaching Fellows program each summer for Baylor faculty and graduate teachers of record to incorporate Poage Library materials into their curriculum.
Therefore, we look fondly back on September 21, 1979, dare to be proud of all the work accomplished in 40 years, and dream about what the future holds for Poage Library. May she continue to transform for the better!