Though most days finding a spot to study in the Boise State library can be difficult, it is fairly common to meet students who have never checked out a book there. The necessity of a library is still clearly relevant in 2020, but many of the resources the building offers lay untapped by the campus population. On the second floor near the McCain Reading Room lies one of those often-forgotten resources; one that also happens to be a rich source of history on almost any topic.
“There’s great value and importance in archives and in studying primary sources, and making those accessible to everyone,” said Dr. Alessandro Meregaglia, assistant professor of history as well as a librarian and archivist. “It used to be that archives, decades ago, were more just for professors or scholars. Now, archives are open to everyone, and the material is accessible to everyone.”
According to Meregaglia, the best thing that campus members can do if they are unsure whether the archive is relevant to them is to talk to one of the four archivists Boise State employs.
“I think having that face-to-face interaction can help demystify aspects of [the archives]. Each archive is different, so the material that we have at Boise State is definitely unique to Boise State,” said Meregaglia.
Recently, Meregaglia has garnered attention for locating a previously unpublished book by an Idahoan writer named Vardis Fisher in the archives of the Library of Congress. Meregaglia’s use of archives is one example of how people can use the resource to deepen their understanding of most any subject in a unique way.
“One of my favorite things about [archives]is that you’re always learning. Anytime we help a student, or we bring something out for a class, or we help another researcher answer a question, or we get a new collection, anything we just learn all the time,” said Dr. Cheryl Oestreicher, head of special collections and archives at Boise State.
Oestreicher said that for her, one of the most important elements of archives is their ability to teach the public about history in a variety of ways on a multitude of subjects.
“Where we are today, there’s all this stuff that happened to get us where we are, and we don’t always think about that, we don’t always need to,” Oesteicher said. “So to think about climate change: if we go back and look at some of our collections, there’s discussions about that going back for decades.”
Understanding the context and history behind today’s world gives people a better understanding of any situation and where it started Oestreicher said. For Avery Masiewicz, junior studying English Literature who also works in the archives, understanding current events is what makes her appreciate working with historical material.
“It gives a lot of insight into the history of the university, but at the same time, it also gives a lot of insight into the history of current events,” Masiewicz said.
Masiewicz also said that working in the archives has given her an appreciation for the amount of organization that goes into maintaining a system like the archives where, if she puts a book on the wrong shelf, it will be lost for anyone looking for it until its recovered.
Though students may scoff at the idea of spending free time looking through archival material, Oestreicher emphasized the archives can be a great way to illuminate topics someone may have always been curious about. By compiling endless amounts of historical artifacts, the archives are a large resource that the library holds that the campus community can take advantage of for projects or just fun and anywhere in between.