History of University Archives and Records Program
By Frank Stanger, Reference Archivist
The genesis of the University Archives and Records Program --the Bureau of Source Materials in Higher Education, established in 1937 and placed administratively under the University President's office and the directorship of retiring University Registrar, Ezra Gillis, was created for the purpose of collecting and preserving source materials relating to and documenting the history of the University of Kentucky, as well as other institutions of higher education, public and private elementary and secondary schools, and education in general in the State. As its focus in time narrowed to the University, building its collection, as it did, upon a nucleus of Registrar's Office records, the Bureau came to serve as a de facto archive of the State University.
Upon relinquishing his directorial responsibilities in 1956, Gillis recommended, and the Board of Trustees approved, the change in name of the unit to "University and Educational Archives" and the appointment of his assistant--Mary Hester Cooper--as his successor, and "University Archivist". Cooper's tenure witnessed significant organizational refinements in, and accretions to the Archives' reference and historical collections. Although remaining within the jurisdiction of the President's Office during the greater part of Cooper's term, the University Archives worked closely with(and in close physical proximity to) the Department of Special Collections in the University Library, particularly as the processing of papers and records of common relevance and mutual interest was concerned.
In 1962 a Committee on Archives, appointed by President Frank Dickey, made recommendations which specifically identified types of materials for retention by the University Archives, and generally formalized and legitimized its function as an official repository of institutional records and personal papers. A memorandum issued by President John Oswald in 1964 reiterated and reemphasized this role.
In 1963, control over the unit was transferred to the Office of the Vice President of the University, and in October of that year was officially designated "University Archives." In 1964 it was placed within the administrative hierarchy of the University's Library System and consolidated with the Special Collections Department.
Miss Cooper, granted a two-year post-retirement appointment to process the recently accessioned papers of President Herman L. Donovan, was succeeded as Archivist in 1970 by Charles L. Atcher. Atcher had served since 1963 as the Library's Field Representative. Atcher's collecting experience, abilities, and interests served him well; the Department's holdings of institutional records, as well as its Kentucky political and manuscript collections grew appreciably during his tenure.
In 1985 Terry Birdwhistell, Director of Special Collections' Oral History Program, was appointed University Archivist. In the fall of 1987 the Library assumed administrative responsibility for the University's ten-year-old records program, and University Archives was renamed "the University Archives and Records Program". There followed an extensive survey of the records of the institution's major administrative offices and academic units, and intensive discussions with University personnel and state officials, concerning the management of the school's public records. This culminated in the formulation of a Model Records Retention and Disposal Schedule, which today serves as the basis for the current records program of the University of Kentucky, as well as those programs of the other Kentucky public post-secondary educational institutions.
Weston Thompson, appointed Associate University Archivist and Records Program Coordinator in 1996, and University Archivist in 1998, refined, and elaborated upon the existing Records Program administrative structure, including the establishment of a network of records liaisons representing the various organizational sectors of the University and linking the major campus units with UARP as the central, coordinating agency of the program. Upon Thompson's departure in 1999 Birdwhistell re-assumed the University Archivist position, and a year later in the fall of 2000, Thompson's replacement--Tom Rosko, was hired as Assistant University Archivist and Director, UK Records Program. Rosko was named University Archivist in 2001. Tom left in April, 2003 to take a position at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In the last fifteen years, the University Archives and Records Program (UARP) has experienced tremendous growth with respect to its holdings of historical collections. At the same time, through an enlargement and reorganization of its staff structure, UARP has been able to more efficiently and effectively serve the needs and interests of its greatly expanded University and non-University constituency. Current staff include: Records Program Manager Nancy DeMarcus, and, in addition, a host of student assistants make a significant contribution to the work done by the University Archives and Records Program.
(March 31, 2016) The UK Libraries Special Collections Research Center has initiated a new online requests system allowing all our faculty, students, patrons, and visiting researchers to submit requests for materials, schedule a visit, or place digital reproduction and oral history orders through a custom web-based interface.
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The mission of the Special Collections Research Center is to locate and preserve materials documenting the social, cultural, economic, and political history of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Materials are acquired regardless of format and include both primary and secondary sources; Kentuckiana is collected comprehensively. Special Collections maintains the records management program for all records generated by the University and serves as its archival repository for permanent records. As part of the mission, the Special Collections Research Center advances and supports the research, teaching, and scholarship of the University and beyond by preserving and providing access to its holdings.