UWL’s Unbelievable Archives

Karley Betzler, Staff Reporter

Tucked away, within Murphy Library, is a place that holds La Crosse records stretching back to the early 1800’s, a book that was printed while Shakespeare was still alive, and contemporary works by local authors and artists. The Special Collections and Area Research Center is much more than a place students stop by once for a history class.  

Paul Beck, Special Collections Librarian, has been with the Archives since 1998 and is still learning. This is due to the Archives receiving new materials almost everyday.   

Beck said, “You never know what people might need, so that’s why we collect in a lot of different areas.” 

Beck explained that having these materials is really about utilizing them. “We have all these available materials…so we help the students out. We’re eager for our materials to be used. It doesn’t do any good to warehouse this material if it’s not used.”  

To make the collections more accessible to students, the Archives are moving towards publishing their materials online.  

According to Beck, “We are digitizing more and more things. You can go to Murphy Library’s digital collections and see what we’ve got.” They host a wide variety of local authors work as well as local presses, like The Racquet  

Beck added, “We’ve got some great photos on there and we have all The Racquet’s [articles], the yearbooks that used to be produced, the student handbooks that had the rules and etiquette that students were supposed to abide by back in the day, so lots of interesting things.”   

Student worker, Alicia Carlson, is working to better promote the Archives. Carlson wants all students, not just history students, to know that the Archives are a resource they can use. Carlson said there is a lot of different resources and that, “Students can use the Archives for their classes, different projects, and papers.” 

Although, as Beck noted, “We have strong collections in history, especially local history.” 

The Archives are home to a large photography collection with special focuses in one particular area. Beck went on to explain that their steamboat collection covers the entirety of North America from the 1850’s to present day.  

Beck continued to say, “What we are internationally known for is our steamboat photographs. We cover all inland rivers of North America. Steamboat researchers use us. We’re one of the, maybe, three big steamboat repository and research facilities in the country.”  

Beck noted the records the Archives keeps on their visitors. Beck stated that about 60% of the Archives Users are UWL students, staff, or faculty. The other 40% are community members. “We’re open to the public. We’re open to the community.” 

Beck later added, “We get business owners who want old photographs to decorate.” The Special Collections Librarian recalled, “The Charmant Hotel uses our photos, the Radisson, if you see old photos blown up around buildings or businesses downtown there’s a good chance they’re from us.”  

Beck had a final thought to share with the UWL community. “We’re here. We’re here to help people. We have materials of different formats on a lot of topics. So, UWL and La Crosse history? Yes, but people use us for many other things.”