The Crusader Online

October 23, 2009
Vol. 51 No. 6

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Student invites archive exploration

When I tell people I work in the archives, there are two standard reactions. The first is a shocked, almost indignant exclamation: "I didn't know we had an archives department."

This answer never ceases to surprise me. How could a fellow student, who has used the library at some point, be unaware of the archives -- the place where I have worked for nearly three years of my college career? The second reaction I receive is harder to respond to and is generally asked in a conspiratorial manner as if the person is expecting to be let in on some big secret.

"What do you do there?" I pause a moment to think of how to sum up the archives.

"Well, I sort through old pictures and label them. I box them. I do that kind of thing."

The person usually nods, and I smile, then the archives once again becomes nothing more than a strange and foreign word to them, never again uttered in mixed company. Yet what I really want to tell them is much more complicated than perusing through old photos.

What I really want to tell them describes the time that I was sorting through a box of old soccer portraits and came across a groovy guy from the 1970s who was the spitting image of the boy I was dating at the time.

I should have teased this boy for weeks afterwards, calling him Eddie or Tom or Fernando, or whatever the 70s guy's name was. Or there was the shining moment when I had to look up a date in a yearbook and I found some delightful old senior photos of adults I knew.

We're talking friends' parents with 80s hair or currently bald professors with full heads of hair.

Then there was the time I discovered that at one point in Susquehanna's history, female students actually had to get permission to walk downtown, accompanied by men of course.

Ladies, imagine if we still had to have a permission slip and a guy in order to go to BJ's Steak & Rib House for some bongo bongo dip. I don't think that would go over too well. Or imagine being required to sign in and out of your dorm buildings or having curfews. Or imagine having dormitories that were absolutely not co-ed.

It's fascinating to consider how different college would be if these rules still existed.

What if you were a student then and you simply didn't like these rules? Well, you protested of course.

Coming across posters from the early half of the 20th century advertising a "call to arms" of sorts for Susquehanna students was just another fascinating find in the archives.

Perhaps most interesting to me is the chance to examine fashion throughout Susquehanna's history -- and to see the ways trends repeat themselves. But if fashion isn't your thing, there are endless -- and I mean endless - boxes of sports photos. Or student life photos, of 1950s homecoming queens or a 1960s version of "Rivercraft" for all of you other writing majors out there.

There are even alumni scrapbooks, vintage posters from past university events and original blueprints for buildings that, at least in my mind, have seemingly existed at Susquehanna forever.

Not to mention, of course, that we Archives workers are really quite nice and friendly. Just because we work in the basement in a room with no windows doesn't mean we aren't sunny.

So to everyone who has ever wondered if the archives even exists or what we could possibly be doing down there, now you know that the answers are yes and everything.

And if you were ever curious to see what Professor So-and-So looked like in the 1970s or how many football games we won in 1953 you should come down and visit.

As for me, when I head on down to the good old archives tomorrow to start sorting through a sheet music collection, I can only imagine what I might find.
Maybe a yellowing love-letter tucked between page 2 and page 3 of "America the Beautiful." Or the rough draft of an editorial calling for student protest against the lack of opportunities for a harpsichordist in the music program.

You just never know what gem you might find in the archives until you start looking.

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