The Digital Collections of SMU’s Central University Libraries: The Gold Standard

by Paula Bosse

umphrey-lee-snack-bar_rotunda_1956My father in the Umphrey Lee snack bar? (click for larger image)

by Paula Bosse

This past week I was invited by SMU’s Cindy Boeke (whose full title is Digital Collections Developer, Norwick Center for Digital Services, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University) to tour several of the CUL special collections libraries, which include the DeGolyer Library, the Hamon Arts Library (which includes the Bywaters Special Collections and the G. William Jones Film and Video Collection), the Edwin J. Foscue Map Library, and the SMU Archives. I had a behind-the-scenes look at the journey an item takes on its way to being digitized, beginning with the acquisition of the collection itself, the cataloging of the collection, and the research, annotation, and imaging of each item. Another important part of the process is the often mundane but necessary grant-writing which must be done to obtain funding to do much of the above. These collections at SMU are huge, but a remarkably efficient group of SMU library staff and students tackle the herculean task of getting everything cataloged and up online, accessible to everyone. At the end of February, 2016, over 51,000 items have been published online. And there is a vast, exciting amount still to come!

For me, the online digitized database of SMU’s Central University Libraries is the absolute best for researching historical Dallas images. (I should note that Dallas history is only part of the wide-ranging collection of photographs, manuscripts, films, etc., concerning everything from Western Americana to the Mexican Revolution to trains and railroad history to artists’ sketchbooks, etc.) I’m most interested in Dallas photographs, and SMU really has no equal in what they provide online: large, high-resolution images without watermarks, accessible to anyone with a computer, tablet, or phone. It is an unbelievable treasure trove of historical images, and I’ve been lost in it for hours at a time.

I know this might come dangerously close to appearing to be some sort of paid promotion, but it’s not. We are very lucky here in Dallas to have these SMU collections available to us. I wish ALL institutions with historical holdings would also throw open the doors to their archives’ vaults and share their collections online freely. (I would be remiss if I didn’t mention UNT’s wonderful Portal to Texas History site here, which, along with SMU, does just that.) We are living in a digital age, and to be unable to access some of Dallas’ other deep and varied collections of our own city’s history is incredibly frustrating, as I think it must also be for the institutions themselves — digitization of large collections takes time and money, both of which are often in short supply. SMU’s online presence is what all other libraries and institutions should model themselves after. Thank you, Norwick Center for Digital Services, for truly bringing SMU into the Digital Age.


On a more personal note, even though I use the online digital catalog of SMU’s collections all the time for this blog, it can also be a great source to use to explore your family’s history if family members have attended SMU. My mother and my father both attended SMU, and thanks to the digitization of EVERY SINGLE ROTUNDA YEARBOOK (!), I was able to find photos of my parents I’d never seen before.

The photo at the top of this post shows the then-new Umphrey Lee Student Center snack bar and appeared in the 1956 Rotunda yearbook. I was browsing through the “Campus Memories” photos from the SMU Archives, and when I saw this photo, I immediately recognized the back of my father’s head! A KA fraternity brother of his doesn’t think it’s my father in  this picture, but my mother, my brother, and I all think that that the student in the white shirt in the foreground with his back to the camera is almost certainly my father, who was a grad student in 1956. If it weren’t for the Campus Memories collection (which is FANTASTIC, by the way), I’d never have seen this photograph. And because the Rotunda database is searchable by names (see below for link), I was able to find a photo of my still-teenaged father in some sort of large, uniformed squadron (“Squadron A”) in 1953 — a zoomed-in detail of the photo is below:


And I’m not sure I would have seen this photo of my mother taken a few years later, looking incredibly cute and perky as an officer of the honorary Comparative Literature fraternity, Beta Kappa Gamma. (My  mother is on the back row, between the two tall men.)

beta-kappa-gamma_rotunda_19561956 (mustachioed professor Lon Tinkle is in middle row, far right)

Or this photo a few years after that when she was the president of the group. She always laughs when she recalls how one of the rituals that came with the office was pouring tea from the group’s silver tea service.

mew_rotunda_19591959 (with sponsor Dr. Gusta Nance at right)

Again, thank you, SMU!

prb-mew-rotundaDick Bosse, Margaret Werry


Main search page for SMU’s Central University Libraries is here. Pack a lunch. You might be here a while.

Norwick Center for Digital Services info is here.

Top photo is titled “Students in Umphrey Lee Student Center Snack Bar” — it was taken in 1955 and appeared in the 1956 Rotunda, SMU’s yearbook; it is from the SMU Archives, DeGolyer Library, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University, and it is accessible here. (I’ve cropped it a bit at the top and bottom.)

All other photos are from various editions of the Rotunda yearbook, all of which are online.

Every single edition of the Rotunda — from the very first yearbook for the inaugural 1915-1916 class — has been scanned in is entirety and is available online. This incredible resource is here. It takes a little while to figure how to navigate through the yearbooks — instructions are here. It can be very slow to load — but it’s worth the wait.

More from the SMU Archives (including the archived campus newspaper) is here.

Lastly, I would like to thank Cindy Boeke of the Norwick Center for inviting me to visit the Central University Libraries. I’d also like to thank Anne Peterson of the DeGolyer Library, Jolene de Verges, Sam Ratcliffe, and Ellen Buie Niewyk of the Hamon Arts Library, the SMU archivist Joan Gosnell, and all of the other CUL staff members and students I met on my visit to the SMU campus. Keep up the great work!

Click pictures for larger images.


Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.