Time Out with T.O. - Preserving history

by Tom O'Connor, UNMC strategic communications (retired) | October 21, 2020

Image with caption: From left, Carrie Meyer, Erin Torell and Nick Hanson are part of the special collections and archives team.

From left, Carrie Meyer, Erin Torell and Nick Hanson are part of the special collections and archives team.

Preserving the history of UNMC can be a daunting task.

But, Carrie Meyer and her six-person team in the Special Collections and Archives of the McGoogan Health Sciences Library is up to the challenge.

The team

In addition to Carrie Meyer, the special collections and archives team includes:

  • DiAnna Hemsath, certified archivist;
  • Maria Shellman, archives associate;
  • Darby Reiners, archivist and public historian;
  • Erin Torell, rare books librarian;
  • Larissa Krayer, digital archivist; and
  • Nick Hanson, part-time student worker from UNO's History Department.

"It's a geeky thing, but I love it, love it, love it," said Meyer, who is assistant professor and head of special collections and archives.

She is quick to recognize Emily McElroy, library dean, for making history preservation "a priority."

With the Wigton Heritage Center slated to open next spring, Meyer and her team will be playing a key role in helping tell the UNMC story. The center will feature 26 exhibits in total -- "It won't be static," she said. "The exhibits will rotate."

Since 2005, Meyer has worked in museums. She started at the Dr Pepper Museum and Free Enterprise Institute in Waco, Texas, while she was completing her master's degree in museum studies at Baylor University.

picture disc.
From left, Torell, Hanson and Meyer look over an antique dental instrument case on loan from the College of Dentistry Collection for inclusion in the Wigton Heritage Center exhibit.

Dr Pepper was invented in Waco, Meyer said. It resulted from a pharmacist mixing medicines with syrup to make the medicines taste better. And, oh yeah, there's no period after Dr, she notes.

Meyer joined UNMC in 2019 after an 11-year stint at The Durham Museum in Omaha, where she served as chief curator.

"The Wigton Heritage Center will be a museum to UNMC and to the health sciences in Nebraska," Meyer said.

Before you toss, think library

With lots of baby boomers at UNMC nearing retirement, Carrie Meyer and her team have one special request -- please don't forget the library.

"We want retiring staff to know we want your 'office' -- the history you've made while at UNMC . . . the humanizing part of it," Meyer said. "Don't just throw items away thinking no one is interested in your notes or ideations. Send it over to the library. Special collections and archives are here to work with people to preserve history. Let us throw it away for you!

"We're interested in your story. If you think you might have historical items, we're very happy to go through them . . . so many people don't know that we are here and are a resource for them."

Meyer's team is committed to digitizing items of historical value. Library staff also are conducting oral histories "with people who have built UNMC over the years."

Meyer freely admits that UNMC's history is lacking in diversity, especially in terms of women and people of color. She said the library is hiring a consultant to help them address this weakness, and the team is committed to incorporating diverse voices into the archive.

"Everyone should be able to find themselves here," she said.

She stresses that the library is a resource for the entire campus - not just the College of Medicine. That's why the library changed its name earlier this year.

"We want to expand our services in special collections and archives. We can help with research and teaching. We can bring artifacts to class to help students learn the history of what they are studying," Meyer said. "We can provide skill building such as empathy training. Dealing with patients is more than making a diagnosis. They need to know you care about them.

"We are willing and able to talk to anybody. In the end, we want to help produce better dentists, physicians, pharmacists, nurses, public health and allied health professionals."

With the COVID-19 pandemic consuming people's lives, the library is seeking to capture UNMC's important role in dealing with the virus. She said, "We want to show the humanizing effect -- what did people experience and what was the university's response. Twitter and other social media have become the diaries of today."

After being moved out of the library for construction of the Wigton Heritage Center, the special collections and archives team has now moved back to its home on the seventh floor of Wittson Hall. The collections areas on the eighth level will be finished next year, Meyer said, and the team is ready to take its program to a whole new level.

"There are no wild ideas," Meyer said. "We are a historical repository. We need to keep asking, 'What if?' regarding new ways to bring that history to the variety of learners we serve. It is so much fun."

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Virginia Aita
November 04, 2020 at 6:24 PM

Thank you for what you do. UNMC’s history is important. Virginia Aita

Mary Helms
October 21, 2020 at 3:52 PM

Great story! You do an awesome job!

Patrick Wortmann
October 21, 2020 at 1:28 PM

The archives staff does an excellent job. We appreciate that they contact us in Environmental Health and Safety when they receive items that may contain hazardous materials. Keep up the good work.

Catherine Mello
October 21, 2020 at 9:43 AM

You all are doing awesome work! Thanks for all you do!