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Preserving Yesterday for Tomorrow:
The Best of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections
The Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections last presented an exhibit featuring the “best of” its collections in 2003. At that time, the Center was approaching its twenty-fifth anniversary. During that first quarter century, the Center had grown from a small rare books repository into a modern special collections department preserving thousands of feet of material. The exhibit was an opportunity to celebrate its growth and show off some of its most important collections.
Now, fifteen years later, the Center again is taking the opportunity to celebrate its growth and show off its most important collections. It does so as the Center prepares to celebrate its fortieth anniversary in 2019.
During the past fifteen years, the Center has continued to do the activities it has done since its founding. The Center still has a three-pronged mission of collecting, preserving, and making available rare and unique research materials. It continues to preserve three distinct types of materials: rare books, manuscripts, and the University of Toledo’s archives. That has not changed.
But at the same time, much has changed. The Center has honed its collecting focus while, at the same time, expanding its emphasis to encompass some new research areas. In the area of rare books, the Center has collected less literature and more books chronicling the history of northwest Ohio and women’s social history. The Center also added an amazing collection of rare medical books following the merger of UT’s library with Mulford Library of the former Medical College of Ohio and the transfer of that library’s rare book collection to the Center. Last year, the Center added over 1000 volumes of rare published government documents following a careful review of the Government Document Department’s collection. Examples of all of these collecting areas are included in this exhibit.
In University Archives, the collections have grown less in physical size as more and more information created by the University of Toledo is created and maintained in digital form. But that does not mean these electronic documents are not being preserved. The Center has created an on-line digital repository of university historical materials. Unfortunately, such digital documents cannot be “displayed” in an exhibit. But visitors are encouraged to access the University of Toledo Digital Repository to see the university’s history that is now available from your desktop. A large physical collection was added to University Archives when the Canaday Center acquired the historical records of the former Medical College of Ohio in 2006. We are proud to preserve the institutional memory of MCO, and it is our hope that those who remember the college fondly will know that its history lives on.
But it is in the area of manuscript collecting that the Canaday Center has grown the most, both in terms of the size of its collections and also in terms of its reputation. In particular, the Center has developed three extraordinary collecting areas: the history of business and industry of Toledo, disability history, the history of Toledo’s city government.
In 2003, the Canaday Center preserved the records of one international glass company founded in Toledo: Libbey-Owens-Ford. Since then, the Center has added the records of two other such companies: Owens-Illinois, the largest manufacturer of bottles in the world; and Owens Corning, creator of products made of glass fibers. These collections have attracted researchers from around the world, and have been used by scholars to write numerous monographs and peer-reviewed articles. As an indication of the depth and breadth of these collections, just these three collections amount to over 1000 linear feet of material. The glass-related collections join others that document Toledo’s businesses and industries, both large and small, and help to tell the story of the city’s changing economy.
The Center’s collecting focus on disability history has its roots in the creation of UT’s Disability Studies Program in 2001, which inspired the Center to collect materials in this area to support the new academic program. At first, our efforts centered on the northwest Ohio region but later expanded into a national collecting focus. When we started down this path, we had no idea that collecting disability history materials was unique and cutting-edge. Of all of our new collecting endeavors, this is the one that has brought us the most attention. The Canaday Center has received local, state, and national awards for our efforts to document the lives of people who have been largely invisible for much of our nation’s history. For this, we are most proud.
The last area of expansion is documentation of the history of Toledo’s city government. This collection, which has grown to several hundred linear feet, began with a phone call in 2015 from a Toledo police detective asking if we would like to come to the downtown Safety Building to take a look at some “old stuff” stashed in the attic of the building. What we found there was astonishing—over 1000 linear feet of documents dating back to the establishment of the city in 1837. Included was the first volume of City Council minutes, files of the city manager, annual reports of city departments, and even the city’s original charter. Working with Toledo officials over the past two years, the Canaday Center was able to transfer the most important of these files to the Center to be preserved and made available to researchers. Having these materials preserved here is appropriate given that The University of Toledo was a city-owned university for 95 years of its existence.
In addition to what we have collected, the Center has continued its program of exhibitions. Each year, we produce a major, original exhibit highlighting some aspect of our collection that allows us to display and interpret materials that are preserved in closed stacks out of public view. These have included exhibits on many different aspects of Toledo history, including medicine, economic development, and international relations. Exhibits have also focused on topics outside of local history, including how marriage and courtship evolved during the nineteenth and early twentieth century as detailed in the literature of the time, and how the architecture of homes reflects the social history of the country. And many topics in between. With each exhibit, the Center has published a catalog which stand as a lasting record of these exhibits after they have completed their run. In addition, thanks to digital technology, the Center’s exhibits for the past eight years continue as virtual exhibitions accessible from our website.
This exhibit highlights specific, individual items from our collections that are judged to be among the best of what we preserve. But researchers interested in the topics highlighted in this exhibit should understand that the items displayed are just one example from the collections from which they came.
My thanks to the many people who helped with this exhibition—most importantly, the faculty and staff of the Ward M. Canaday Center who selected items and wrote descriptions for the catalog. Tamara Jones, Lauren White, Sara Mouch, Arjun Sabharwal, and Richard Kruzel are wonderful colleagues, and the success of the Canaday Center is a reflection of their work. Also thanks to Beau Case, dean of University Libraries, for his leadership. Lastly, thanks to Stephanie Delo from UT’s Office of Marketing and Communication, for the design of this catalog.
“Preserving Yesterday for Tomorrow: The Best of the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections” is a bittersweet exhibit for me. After 31 years in the Canaday Center—initially as university archivist, and for the past 20 years as university archivist and director of special collections—I am retiring from the University of Toledo. It has been a privilege to have helped to shape the development of the Center and its collections. It is my hope that the work the Center has done to preserve so many important items and collections will continue to bear fruit in research and scholarship, and in enhancing the university’s reputation. As an alum of UT, I thank the institution for not only providing me with a great education but also for allowing me to have the best job I ever could have imagined.
University Archivist and Director, Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections