ASC staff occasionally publishes guest posts from former New Mexico State University Library employees. These guest posts help capture the history of the library and department, as well as document the work of librarians and archivists in southern New Mexico. Our first guest post comes from Larry Creider, emeritus professor, who spent 16 years at the NMSU Library, serving as cataloger, special collections librarian, and head of the Archives and Special Collections department.
I grew up in California and received my BA in history from UC Santa Cruz (1972), Ph.D. in medieval studies from Yale (1979), and my MLIS from UT Knoxville (1982). Worked at the libraries of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (1979-1981), the University of Pennsylvania (1983-1999), and New Mexico State University Library (1999-2016). Wife: Barbara Hanna Creider (m. 1976) and son Benjamin Dean (1987-), who is a lawyer in South Carolina.
How did you get into special collections librarianship/archives?
Most of my library career was spent as a cataloger in academic libraries. After a few years spent as a German language cataloger at the University of Pennsylvania, I found the department was having trouble finding a cataloger to work on a grant cataloging some of the many pre-1800 books that had been transferred from the stacks to Rare Books. I volunteered and spent two years working on that project. I gradually became more involved in rare book cataloging, which I found fascinating. I found myself training and supervising some of our original catalogers in helping to deal with these items. My background as a medievalist helped me with the languages and cultural background needed. At one point, the library discovered that it had no online bibliographic records for its first, second, and third folios of Shakespeare. I was also involved in developing cataloging rules for medieval manuscripts using the standard computer format for library cataloging (commonly called MARC).
How did you come to your position at the Archives and Special Collections (ASC)?
I came to NMSU to be head of the General Cataloging Unit, and for a few years I had nothing to do with early printed materials, although I did work on cataloging rules for medieval manuscripts and a revision of the rare book cataloging rules. When my predecessor who had retired but handled the books for Special Collections retired, I took over cataloging those materials, including theses and dissertations. Later I found myself creating online records for the Special Collection maps that did not have them. In 2007, I began to split my time as Special Collections librarian and as a cataloger and in 2008 moved to Special Collections full time. The position was open, and I was interested in working these books again. This eventually took me out of cataloging.
Tell us about your work and responsibilities in ASC?
From 2007-2011, I was the Special Collections Librarian. This involved selecting materials, both as gifts and as purchases, supervising a staff member for a year or so until she retired and was not replaced and a success of student workers. I was also involved in getting materials to the catalogers and on the shelves. Then there were projects with the New Mexico newspapers and getting them in some sort of order, reorganizing shelving and working with the other units. We acquired a largish collection of books on UFOs and extraterrestrial life and some wonderful early printed books.
Then in 2011, I became interim department head when Steve Hussman left. For a few years, I remained Special Collections Librarian until we were given permission to fill that slot as well as two archivist slots. Obviously, I had to do a lot of learning about archives and the current issues in managing them. The whole ASC space was renovated. Even though most of the effort was handled by Dean Elizabeth Titus and the Associate Dean Cheryl Wilson, office space was created on the second floor, a political papers archive was created with its own space and offices, and Special Collections found itself with less space. During the renovation, all of the people who were working on the second floor and their collections were moved, people to the fourth floor and collections to the second floor of Branson West, which was made closed access. Somehow, we went through the years of the renovation without anyone killing anyone else, and the end solution, while not perfect, has been a great improvement.
After we did a national search and were unable to find a new permanent head, I applied to be permanent department head, and filled that position until I retired. During my final years, we were able to fill some faculty vacancies, so I was able to devote more of my time to running the department, trying to mentor young faculty, and occasionally doing some research.
What are some of the challenges unique to the collections at ASC?
Under Dean Titus, ASC was given a great deal of support, including financial. This made it possible to deal with some of our problems, most of which are not unique to NMSU. The biggest problem has always been space. It was not until after I retired that a multi-year effort to move theses and dissertations online removed one of the major space eaters. Physical copies of these, which represent copies of the University’s original research since its founding, were growing by about six to seven shelves a year, about an entire section. Then we had a lengthy project cataloging the large collection of dime novels, which took an entire range. The Domenici Papers had to be fitted into about forty percent of the second floor stack space and were a major reason for the renovation. The newspapers had to be re-ordered and gotten under control.
As we did less collecting, more time was spent getting the collection under control. The long-time head of the department built collections, and many of these were unprocessed or un-cataloged due to lack of resources. I commissioned the Rio Grande Historical Collections (RGHC) faculty member and staff to do a survey of its unprocessed collections. As part of that, they created brief records for many unprocessed collections in the Rio Grande Historical Collections. The department’s collection of film and video materials was surveyed to ascertain its physical condition, a major problem on the national level. Work remains to be done conserving those materials. While traditional materials will remain a very large part of ASC unit, the increase of digital materials poses great opportunities and challenges, particularly without additional personal. The issue of the conservation and preservation of digital materials, including documents, databases, and visual materials (LOTS of scanning of visual materials, especially photographs) has only begun, which is unfortunately true on the national level as well. Other issues include adequate statistics since the measures used for the general collections are not very useful for ASC.
The integration of archives and archivists into the library faculty structure has proven difficult. Even with the best will, they professions are different and are developing distinct career paths. Those working with special collections have special needs that have to be communicated, advocated for, and fit into the priorities of the collections which are most used by students and faculty. Sometimes ASC staff have to be encouraged to do outreach and to work continually to improve access.
Preservation and conservation issues, both for digital and for traditional materials, are major issues that have never been adequately funded in any but the largest and wealthiest ASC units.
What was the favorite part of your job?
Dealing with patrons and helping them with their needs. Being able to work to improve relations with other departments. Teaching classes an introduction to archives and special collections was one of my favorite activities, and I was sorry to have to give it up to let younger faculty add it to their portfolios. I loved being able to deal with some of the early materials in the collection. My least favorite part of the job was giving performance evaluations.
What accomplishments or projects are you most proud of regarding your time at ASC?
As I look back, the department went through a lot of change while I was in ASC, pretty much continuously. I am perhaps proudest that I got the finding aids to the Mary Daniels Taylor Durango Microfilm Collections online. I simply worked with Systems people who did the actual work of getting the material on the web, but we doubled the use of the collection, which is one of our great treasures for the history of the Southwest USA. I tried my best to support the staff. We had excellent people when I worked there, and I was able to hire a few more. A retired staff member told me that I was a better person than a department head. I was flattered. Any manager is a small figure in a rapidly moving stream, and what one can do is limited by external and internal constraints. Then you leave, and the water closes over.
Any memorable experiences or funny stories you’d like to share?
I’m sorry, but my mind is blank. Oh, there was the day when the RGHC staff found a flare kit from the Vietnam War in an unprocessed collection. We got the fire dept. and police involved on defanging that one. There were also the cannon balls in the memorabilia collection of former president Hugh Milton, two of which seemed to still have their fuses. We eventually decided they were harmless.
What advice do you have for aspiring archivists/librarians?
Be active in professional groups preferably both archives and librarianship, but at least one of them. Be open to change, for it will happen, generally more slowly than its prophets predict. Who thought of the impact of the internet in the 1980’s? If you do not have language or systems skills, figure out how to get them. Learn the history of the book and the history of written communication. If you do not know where you come from, you won’t know where you are going. It really helps if you can get an internship or work as a paraprofessional in a library or archives before you enter the job market.
What are you currently up to?
I am enjoying retirement and doing a lot of reading. I have published two articles on the books and publications of Padre Antonio Martínez of Taos (1793-1867) and am working on a supplement about new materials that have turned up. I am also working on a project on the Commentary on the Catholic Epistles by the Venerable Bede (673-735). Then there is the issue of downsizing my personal library. I enjoy classical music and will get back to the library at St. Albert the Great Newman Parish when the pandemic has settled down.