“Libraries are haphazard. They grow by circumstance.” Andy Wilkinson, playwright and Artist-in-Residence for ten years at Southwest Collection, acknowledged the logical and serendipitous specialties that comprise Texas Tech University’s archives.
Southwest Collection began with a regional focus: collecting ranching records. “People have been through here for 12,000 years, spring and fall. But there were no permanent records until the 1880’s. The earliest ranchers kept large ledger books, elegantly scripted that list every expenditure and income. The region grew slowly. “Llano Estacado is the largest flat plain on earth. Geologically, it is unchanged for over a million years. There is no live water on the Llano.” But the Ogallala Aquifer contains over 3,000 million-acre feet of water beneath the surface. Mechanical well drilling facilitated the City of Lubbock’s growth after its founding in 1909 and Texas Tech began in 1925. This is a region of recent history.
Ranch records are an important part of Southwest Collection, but the archives also contain other regional source material, including the archives for Texas Tech University and the now defunct Southwest Conference. Beyond that, Southwest Collections contains special collections that began with a particular donor and grew to international prominence. They hold the largest collection of Joseph Conrad first editions and largest collection of Turkish language folk tales in the world. But Southwest Collections is most renowned for The Vietnam Center and Archives. Started in 1989, in response to local Vietnam veterans, Southwest Collections began assembling Vietnam-era documents. Now it is now the world’s largest collection of information about the Vietnam Conflict, including ongoing oral histories from participants on all sides.
Southwest Collections includes many non-print items: over a million photos, thousands of oral histories, recordings and digitized materials. Their1688 Coronelli Globe and the original four-track machine that Norman Petty used to record Buddy Holly in Clovis, NM are treated with equal respect. It’s all history.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I was an early adopter of technology, an early Facebook user and Facebook abandoner. Over the long haul the Internet is a leveler: more education is available to more people. But we have lost the ability to browse and all the collateral knowledge we get through catalog queries is lost. We may be the last generation that has paper source material. We don’t know how long digital files will last from an archive perspective. We know paper is more durable than analog tape, and that’s more durable than digital.
“We aren’t sure how we’re living today; we forget how we lived yesterday. We say we want democracy. Nobody wants democracy. Democracy is only this far away from a mob, depending on who has the pitchfork. We don’t want the rabble-rouser. We want the guy who’s a cut above.”