Southwest Research Center archive holds treasures
Some of New Mexico’s unique historical artifacts are conveniently located just a few steps from many UNM classrooms — or even as close as a computer.
Michael Kelly, director of the Southwest Research Center, said the center’s collection includes rare books, manuscripts, photograph collections and architectural blueprints, with more than 100,000 of these items online in the New Mexico digital archive.
“We are constantly putting more and more things online of our unique materials for everybody in the world to find and of course for students to use.”
The main purpose of the Southwest Research Center, he said, is to make all the rare materials, more than a million items, available to students and researchers. More than 5,000 people from all over the world visit the center each year.
“We want people to use it. We want people to handle it. We want people to research it,” Kelly said. “We really encourage people to come in and learn about the collection and what resources we have.”
Thousands of letters are kept in boxes from the First National Bank of Santa Fe. The collection goes back to 1871 and is the economic history of New Mexico, he said. The center also holds a signed copy of Pat Garrett’s book about the life and death of Billy the Kid.
“Part of our job is to make sure it is preserved and also it is authentic… We are the guardians of the record,” he said.
Nancy Brown-Martinez, an archivist for the center, said she processes various materials including colonial Spanish documents and music.
“It doesn’t do any good if that collection is there and nobody can get to it,” Brown-Martinez said. “We have to make it accessible and useable. We do a lot of, what we call, processing and preparing something so it can be used by a student or patron.”
Scholars from around the world are studying the southwest heavily including the Native American culture, she said.
“If you don’t know the mistakes of history, you are bound to repeat them,” Brown-Martinez said. “You have to know a little bit about what’s going on before you can make an informed decision. You need to have that balance of the then and now idea.”
Digital Initiatives Librarian Kevin Comerford said he is working on the Hillerman Portal, a website that will feature manuscripts and letters of award-winning author Tony Hillerman. The portal will be complete by next fall, he said.
“People who are learning to be writers and studying literature can see how his stories progressed from the early ideas down to the finished product before they were published,” he said.
The Center for Southwest Research has the largest digital database in the state and one of the largest in the southwest, Comerford said.
“The special collections unit in a library is a facility that can never be completely digitized and put online,” he said. “We can put examples online of our collections and make them more accessible but the value in storing the actual physical materials in something you do for the good of everybody… We get to be the stewards of some of New Mexico’s documents.”