A primary function of the University of Idaho Library’s Special Collections and Archives is to collect records and materials that tell the story of university students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Our repository cares for all manner of U of I collections, from club scrapbooks to administrative budget ledgers, from athletics game film to faculty papers, and from Gem of the Mountains yearbooks to theses and dissertations. Yet even as we measure university records in the thousands of feet, they do not make up a majority of our holdings. Documents, books, photographs, and artifacts related to local and regional history constitute the largest percentage of collections in the Library’s archives.
For well over 100 years, the Library has been collecting unique and rare materials related to Idaho’s history. The beginnings of a Special Collections and Archives department were built around books detailing the territorial history of Idaho and accounts from westward immigrants. Valuable maps from insurance companies and federal surveyors were added alongside photograph negatives from community studios. Phone directories and oral history recordings joined service records and stacks of correspondences. By the time the Library underwent its last major renovation, a significant portion of the building’s basement was allocated to secure storage for these invaluable resources.
If you have never used the archives located on campus, it may come as a surprise to learn how extensive and diverse the collections are. Local museums and historical societies tell you with their names what you can expect to find, like the Latah County Historical Society or the Museum of North Idaho. U of I’s Special Collections and Archives, by comparison, presents a bit of a mystery to outsiders. Even the question of who can use the resources housed on campus may not feel obvious. So, please accept this column as your official invitation to check out what our department has to offer! Whether you are a budding genealogist, a local history enthusiast, or just pondering what makes Idaho so unique, we have resources to further your investigation.
For folks working on their family tree, collections like the War Records Committee Military Personnel files or the Barnard-Stockbridge photograph portraits are amazing for their sheer volume. Both are fully indexed online, meaning a simple word search might be all you need to find a photo or case file related to your relative. Detailed content lists for collections are offered through Archives West, a consolidated database of finding aids from archives located in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. At Archives West you can search across the finding aids of nearly fifty repositories, or you can select specific archives. One important thing to keep in mind while using Archives West is that most of the records detailed there are not yet digitized. To inspect materials, you will need to contact us or the holding institution to make an appointment or request a copy.
If you have an interest in learning more about your community, there are plenty of opportunities in the archives to dig into local history. Using the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, newly digitized and available at https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/digital/, you can study the growth of a neighborhood or downtown business district.
The Day-Northwest rare book collection includes self-published community histories and first-person accounts that you are unlikely to find anywhere else.
Records from civic organizations, clubs, and businesses document activities that built places we love.
Photos collected by long-time community members make it possible to see how things have changed and what remains the same.
There is so much to discover in the University of Idaho Library’s Special Collections and Archives. If you are curious to explore the treasures in our repository or if you would like assistance moving your historical research forward, please reach out. You can find out more by visiting https://www.lib.uidaho.edu/special-collections/ or simply send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org