Special Collections Receives 2021 SBCI Grant

The Southwest and Border Cultures Institute (SBCI) awarded the Special Collections unit a Library and Museum Acquisition Grant this past summer.  The $3,385.00 award will be spent on published material that documents the World War II and Cold War-era southern New Mexico military and federal research institutions.  The grant narrative below lays out the case for why acquiring this material is a priority and how adding these unique items plays a key role in building research collections here at the NMSU Library.

Bombing range, Deming Army Air Field, c.1943

During World War II, southern New Mexico served a vital role in hosting U.S. Army Air Corps service members as they trained and prepared for deployment across the globe. Residents of Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Deming, Hobbs, and Roswell saw their cities selected as sites for army airfields. These flight and bombardier schools, quickly established and hastily constructed, took advantage of the vast federal land in the state deemed suitable for training heavy bomber crews and their maintenance and support personnel. Between 1943 and 1945, the skies over the borderland filled with Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses, Consolidated B-24 Liberators, Boeing B-29 Superfortress’, and Beechcraft Model 18 (AT-11 Kansans).

The federal government additionally selected other southern New Mexico locations to fulfill objectives deemed essential to defeating the Axis powers. A POW Camp in Lordsburg held captured German and Italian soldiers from the North Africa campaign, as well as Japanese and Japanese American “internees” deemed a potential spy and saboteur risk by military and government officials. The ultra-secret Manhattan Project, a scientific quest to develop the first nuclear weapon, selected an isolated spot in the Jornada del Muerto desert on the northern fringes of the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range/White Sands Proving Ground to detonate the world’s first atomic bomb.

Dayroom game of pool, Deming Army Air Field, c.1943

While hostilities in Europe and the Pacific came to a formal close in 1945, military and scientific priorities during the Cold War meant New Mexico continued to play a role in the “military-industrial complex.” Army airfields converted into permanent military bases (Holloman Air Force Base and Walker Air Force Base) and testing facilities expanded at White Sands Missile Range, all playing a pivotal role in high-altitude flight and rocket testing as the country entered the “space race.”

These wartime governmental initiatives mobilized a vast, diverse workforce who came to New Mexico from across the country and around the world. This mid-20th century government investment in the state helped expand New Mexico’s economy while also exposing the Southwest to many for the first time. The impact of federal spending within the state, through the building of infrastructure, scientific R&D, and jobs for civilian support personnel, cannot be overstated. The state’s vital economic engines of Los Alamos Labs, NASA, Holloman Air Force Base, and White Sands Missile Range, all who trace their roots back to the World War II-era, continue to shape New Mexico.

Headquarters, Deming Army Air Field, c.1943

The NMSU Library Archives and Special Collections (ASC) seeks Library and Museum Acquisition Grant funding to increase its documentation of World War II- and Cold War-era military and government installations in southern New Mexico. Since 1972, the ASC has worked to collect, preserve, and provide access to primary and secondary source materials that illuminate the history and culture of southern New Mexico and the border region. While the department does hold archival collections and publications that document these military and scientific endeavors, there are gaps in our Special Collections holdings that need addressing via collection development. Special Collections, a unit within ASC, follows an acquisition policy organized around target subjects, issues, and information. Recent inquiries by patrons and students during the spring 2021 semester, regarding WWII POW Camps and Walker Air Force Base specifically, show that interest in these topics remain high and are worthy of targeted acquisition through grant funding. Budgetary cuts for the FY2021 saw Special Collections lose 50% of its acquisitions funds, with the remaining $2,500.00 used to keep pace with new publications in the humanities.

A review of topical material available for purchase in the used and rare book market that could fill gaps in coverage includes several annual or yearbook-style publications showing army airfield personnel and units. These monographs generally capture the base’s built environment and give insight into service member’s training, off-duty activities, and leave excursions. Material for sale also includes newspapers, maps, brochures, and other ephemera. Additionally there are several titles by popular and university presses. Due to the age and rarity of most of these items, with each passing year it becomes more costly and difficult to acquire.

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Purchasing of this targeted material is underway, with some material having already arrived on campus.  Images in this post come from one of the items purchased and available in the library catalog, Deming Army Air Field: Army Air Forces Flying Training Command UG638 .B29 1943.  Stay tuned to this space for further announcements about the availability of grant acquired materials.


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