USAO’s Nash Library archival project to preserve university history

Alumni, students, faculty and staff all stopped by the table to look for friends and compare familiar campus memories
Alumni, students, faculty and staff all stopped by the table to look for friends and compare familiar campus memories

The University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma’s Nash Library is undergoing a comprehensive archival project, aimed at organizing and preserving the university's long history.

A key aspect of the project has involved a photo-identification project, which has drawn students and alumni from throughout the years to identify classmates, acquaintances relatives, and even themselves from years past.

In 2006, the library received a donation from Mo Anderson to renovate space in the library, creating a state-of-the-art archive room that became the home of this well-loved project. The archives house various university files, along with objects from Oklahoma College for Women students and faculty. 

“When items were first given to the archives, everything was brought over in boxes with really no rhyme or reason,” said Nicole McMonagle, director of the Nash Library. “Kelly Brown [former director of the library] did a lot of manual labor with this, finding out where items were from and aided in identifying the collection, but she never had the time to process the collections, so it’s been in a secure storage area.”

When the sorting began, files were put into acid free file folders with staples removed so that they can then go through the preservation process.

“We started doing a survey of everything that is in our archives. My archives student worker Berrielle Ostermayer has been doing a really great job going through and surveying the contents of the boxes, and identifying and labeling,” said McMonagle. “This process has helped me identify collections quicker when aiding in research.” 

Most of the items in the archives are now labeled, making it simple for McMonagle to survey and identify the contents and location of each box. Also, many photos of previous OCW and Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts students were found. These pictures have been sorted by the decade they were taken. However, many photos, especially those from student and athletics events, as well as freshman and sophomore weeks, lack any information on the back. 

To assist with identifying the photos, the plan for a photo identification project was launched. The plan was to invite alumni back to campus so they could help identify their classmates and other people in the photos. The event was to take place during the 2023 homecoming when the university would be celebrating the 50th anniversary of intercollegiate athletics at USAO.

The photo identification table ended up being a hit during the homecoming festivities. Alumni, students, faculty and staff all stopped by the table to look for friends and compare familiar campus memories. McMonagle and her student worker listened intently, recording findings diligently, making sure no one was forgotten.

“We had some parents come up to look at the pictures. One woman found herself, and she was, I believe, a cheerleader,” McMonagle reminisced. “Then she was able to identify her daughter who was on the women’s basketball team, so that was a magical moment. President [Kayla] Hale also was able to identify some of her best friends from her time at USAO.” 

For several weeks after homecoming, community members visited the library to go through the photos. Student workers and library staff worked hard to pull unidentified photos from the archive that had not been featured at homecoming. They continue to put the bits and pieces together to form a complete story of the history of USAO through the eyes of the archives. 

About the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma

As Oklahoma’s liberal arts college, the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma provides a distinctive education in the liberal arts and sciences, supporting both its interdisciplinary core curriculum and major fields of study with superior teaching. USAO fosters diversity of thought and practice to help students realize meaningful, purposeful and productive lives as global citizens in a rapidly-changing world.