The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Presidential library continues to grow

There have been some jarring changes made apparent to Mississippi State University students visiting Mitchell Memorial Library. The noise of construction, coupled with a towering crane, ubiquitous sawdust and a slew of caution tape, proves a big addition is on the horizon. This activity concerns a new floor to the library, which will soon house the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library and the Congressional and Political Research Center. 
The expansion will allow for a suitable space for the burgeoning collection of political papers, research and artifacts contained in the Grant and congressional collections. 
The Grant Association was founded in 1962, as a special commemoration for the articles preserved from the Grant presidency. Since 1962, there have been 32 volumes collected and published of Grant’s works, which accounts for only 20 percent of the overall materials in the collection. MSU began housing the Grant collection in 2008. 
David Nolen, assistant editor and reference librarian of the congressional center, said having a presidential library on the MSU campus is valuable. 
John Marszalek, executive director and managing editor of the Grant Association, said a marker map was created, so the Grant Association could keep track of visitors to the presidential library. The association hosts visitors from 48 states and several countries. Nolen spoke of the variety of researchers from campus that visit the Grant Collection. 
“When you think of the Grant Association, and what we have done over the years, and what we’re doing now, I think of it in terms of the functions, and the different groups who use those functions,” Nolan said. “As Dr. Marszalek mentioned, we have artifacts on display, so that people can come in and see things as in a museum, and that is not only for the campus community, but also for the broader city and state.” 
While the Grant Association is appreciative of their current space, the number of functions that occur within their small suite of offices can place a major strain on their operations. 

Nolen said the association might expect a Pulitzer Prize-winning researcher, an undergraduate history student and a fourth-grade class on a field trip all in the same day.

“The new space is going to lend itself to carrying out these variety of functions, and to serve these interest groups in a much better way,” Nolen said.

With the new expansion, visitors and students will be able to take advantage of the number of reading rooms for study and research. The expanded exhibit spaces will also allow for more documents and artifacts to be placed on display.

The expansion will assist in preserving the works contained within the congressional center and Grant collections. The use of a temperature-and-humidity-controlled storage facility will help prevent the deterioration of these delicate pieces.

Louis Gallo, grant publications editor, said the space will feature appropriate museum lighting, preservation rooms and expanded display and research facilities.

Marszalek said the congressional center and the Grant collections have many benefits for students. Marszalek began by discussing the opportunities for student workers.

“One of the things that really excites me, is we have working here, several undergraduate students,” Marszalek said. “Of all the students we have had over the years, maybe one or two have been actual history majors, while some have been engineering.”

Nolen also said MSU’s ability to boast a presidential library introduced benefits.

“If you wanted to see the originals of these documents, it would involve travel across the United States and even the world,” Nolen said. “But here you have Grant related documents at your fingertips. If you are interested in anything that is antebellum America, up through the Gilded Age and the mid-20th century, there is a broad span of papers made available. It really is a unique opportunity to have a presidential library on campus, so that, even if a student is not doing formal research for a class project, they can come through the exhibit galleries and actually engage with the material and the research that is here.”

Alongside the Grant Collection, exists the political documents preserved within the Congressional and Political Research Center. The congressional center focuses primarily on the respective histories of two Mississippi politicians, Senator John C. Stennis and Representative G. V. Sonny Montgomery.

Ryan Semmes, internal coordinator of the congressional and political research center, said the congressional center offers benefits to students.

“We have the papers of other Mississippians who have served in the United States Congress,” Semmes said. “Beyond the members of Congress, we have the papers of Mississippi politicians at the state and local levels. We have judiciary papers, and governor’s papers, such as the personal papers of Mississippi Governor John Marshall Stone.”

Semmes said when undergraduates visit the congressional center, no matter their line of research, they will likely find something pertaining to their interest in one of the collections.

Semmes said constituent letters are emphasized in the congressional center’s collection.

“In the 20th century, when people had an issue in Mississippi, they would write letters to their member of Congress,” Semmes said. “The Stennis collection, which is ostensibly, almost 4,000 boxes of material, contains all these letter from constituents in Mississippi, who are writing him about important issues, like civil rights and veterans’ affairs, to the mundane, like post offices and potholes.”

Semmes said he would like students to be aware of the number of subjects the center focuses on. He used the example of the collections extensive information on the Stennis Space Center, to illustrate how the center’s collection might benefit an aerospace engineering major’s research.

To evidence the proliferation of the Grant Collection in political research, Marszalek spoke of the instance in which an editor of an Icelandic newspaper traveled to Mississippi State to study documents in regards to a Grant plan to populate the Alaska region with Icelandic immigrants. The Grant Association found itself in possession of a number of documents pertaining to that portion of Grant history, demonstrating the variety of history the collection contains.

Beyond determining all the benefits of the collections, Gallo sought to reinforce the willingness of the congressional center and the Grant Association in wanting to help students who might seem intimidated by the collections.

“I would tell students to not be afraid, do not be intimidated,” Gallo said. “We give you access to the materials, staff who are present to help you, and research space to study peacefully.”

The congressional center and the Grant Association expect to have a grand opening of their new space in October of 2017. In the meantime, students are invited to visit their current facilities on the first floor of Mitchell Memorial Library. They are open from 7:30-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Presidential library continues to grow