To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, some UF students “don’t know what they’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” In other words, current students don’t exactly see the value in maintaining an archive of the University’s history.
“I don’t get much interest from current students,” said Bob Schirmer, University archivist, who will retire in July. “But when they come back 10, 20 or 50 years later it’s a different story. They want to see photos, posters and anything that reminds them of their time here. It tends to be the ‘old guard’ who really value the ‘old stuff’.”
Schirmer has spent the last three and a half years as the University’s archivist. He’s turned his space on the second floor of Shafer Library into a combination display, work and storage area. In a prominent spot is a cantilevered window rescued from Ritz Auditorium prior to its renovation. It’s one of his favorite items, along with original student registration books (circa. 1886) and several old photos.
“Just look at these photos of Old Main,” he added. “Did you know that there were urns on the roof? (There are actually three remaining on the west side of the building that can be seen from the ground.)
Former Library Director
As UF’s public services librarian from 1980-83 and director of Shafer Library from 1983-2011, Schirmer is aware of the value of saving and cataloging (or digitizing) old student newspapers, yearbooks, photographs and handwritten registration books. He feels that a University archive is important because it chronicles the background of UF, the materials could otherwise be lost or destroyed and, “If we don’t preserve it, who will?”
While the University has shared some materials with other institutions, no one has a complete set of information. That’s up to us.
“Although we have more than others, some of our publication runs are, unfortunately, incomplete,” Schirmer mused.
Schirmer said that some faculty draw on archived materials for their classes, usually the English department when students need a primary source for a writing project. Anne Albert, assistant professor of mathematics who will also retire in July, used the archives in her research on the history of the Math Department. For most of these activities, Dick Kern’s “The First 100 Years” has been an invaluable guide.
According to Schirmer, another individual who has figured significantly in preserving the University’s history is former coach, dean of students, and assistant professor James Houdeshell, who recently retired after more than 60 years of service to UF.
“One of my greatest experiences in the past 3-1/2 years has been working more closely with Jim. He’s a wonderful source for Findlay College/UF history, and without him we wouldn’t have the facility we do today.”
Has technology and the changing role of libraries been a good thing? For the most part, yes, stated Schirmer. He likes the idea of a learning commons and the accessibility of thousands of publications through computerized databases. Toward the end of his tenure in the library, though, he did start to miss personal interaction with students.
“Our communication became just about all email,” he remembered. “Even though some of what we provided to students was tedious work, I missed talking with them face-to-face.”
One of his favorite memories of the library was the establishment of the Mazza Museum in the basement. The museum began with just four pieces of original art.
“After a few years, I think there were more materials in the basement closets than were on display,” he laughed.
In retirement, Schirmer will probably continue acting and singing in community theater and choral groups. He has been in several productions at UF and, at this writing, was performing in “1776” at the Fort Findlay Playhouse. He and his wife are also considering a move to the Greenville/Spartanburg, South Carolina area, which will necessitate getting his house in Bluffton ready to sell.
“We’ve lived there 38 years and accumulated a lot of stuff,” he laughed.
Just what you would expect from an archivist, right?