top of page
  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

Local Treasures: UTC’s Special Collections Archive

By Mason Edwards, Staff Writer for the University Echo

From twentieth-century Krystal marketing materials to alumni publications, UTC’s library protects the firsthand pieces of Chattanooga’s past, ensuring its cultural heritage remains available for generations to come.

As students push the boundaries of success in the library’s study rooms, UTC’s archivists protect Chattanooga’s most prized pieces on the fourth floor. Their archive houses collections–groupings of works by the same author or which fit a similar theme–of priceless value.

Special Collections Director Carolyn Runyon gave an example: Professor Emerita Roland Carter, PhD., donated hundreds of pieces of sheet music, recordings and published material related to African American performers, songwriters and composers.

“We are supported by the people who donate these bits of paper that, you know, on the surface aren't very valuable,” Runyon said. “But as a collective, I mean, the research value of something like Professor Carter's collection…I don't even know if I could guess of something like that.”

Special Collections Director Carolyn Runyon’s team must carefully consider an item’s value to the community. While narrow in regional scope, Special Collections prides itself on their varied, locally relevant pieces from alumni artists and academics. Early uniforms and advertisements from Krystal’s original Chattanooga-based corporate office live in the library’s attic, including Runyon’s personal favorite piece.

“I have many favorites, but there is a piece that I really like– it hangs in my office actually,” Runyon pointed to a painting of a large Krystal burger with a golden frame. “We don’t know who it’s by, we don’t know whose office it lived in, but it’s a really nice oil painting of a really cheap hamburger.”

With the help of a digitization room, climate-controlled environments, and specialized covers and drawers, Special Collections keeps first edition prints and centuries-old pages escape from turning into dust. Some media forms, like VHS, can’t escape gradual decay, but Special Collections won’t accept pieces they can’t maintain or keep in perpetuity. This, which is known as responsible curation, is part of the procedure for acquisition.

“And then we look at, well, what is this? Does it document something about Chattanooga history?” Runyon said. “And then we have particular areas where we want to develop…” which includes arts, literature, social justice, politics, oral histories, and native heritages.

In frequent communication with the university and surrounding communities, Special Collections has provided first hand experience in archiving to students and has worked directly with local organizations to collect materials. Welcome to anyone, most of their guests come for help with doctoral research or are conscripted by their professors for some out-of-classroom learning.

For example, Special Collections’ University Archivist, Noah Lasley, teaches history majors how to evaluate primary sources to craft historical arguments.

“So we do a lot of like classroom based instruction and you see a lot of undergraduate students use special collections in that way,” Lasley added. “And then there are some every once in a while, we'll get some that are working on some kind of special project on their own or something that they use their stuff for.”

Special Collections also frequently supports administrative decision-making. Lasley works to answer all kinds of campus questions, from decades-old bills and old construction specifications. Runyon added some of the wildest questions Lasley has answered, including how much the Patten Chapel organ originally cost.

“The benefit that Special Collections–and particularly the university archives– provide to the university is being a repository and a place where if there’s a question about university history, this is usually the place to come,” Lasley mentioned.

Either generously donated—like Barry Moser’s extensive wood carvings—or intentionally sought-after—like McCoy Farming Garden’s oral histories— UTC’s archival materials are physical, tangible accounts of Chattanooga’s culture. 

Questions regarding availability and online access may be directed towards Special Collections’ website.

4 views0 comments


bottom of page