Connecticut College Magazine · Spring 2007

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Memory Keeper

Memory Keeper

"I love handling the stuff of history,” says Nova Seals, the librarian for special collections and archives at the Charles E. Shain Library. “I like reading documents, seeing how stories unfold, and looking at photographs, trying to figure out what was going on.”

by Carolyn Battista


Seals is delighted to be back in New London, after taking an unexpected route.

She graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1999, but her Coast Guard career ended almost immediately when the necessity of surgery to correct a jaw-joint disorder brought a medical discharge. As she sought a new career, her interest in history and its materials led her to the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science, with an internship at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. Shortly before her Simmons graduation, she mentioned to a friend how much she´d liked New London. “There´s a job opening there,” her friend said. Seals investigated and came to the College in 2004.

Today she lives in New London with her husband, Kelly (an electrical engineering instructor at the Academy), and their year-old son, Anderson.
On the third floor of Shain Library, a building she often visited as a government-major cadet, Seals oversees some 3,500 linear feet of printed or written materials, along with about 3,000 images. There are letters, diaries, scrapbooks, annual reports, faculty-meeting minutes, campus architectural records, College catalogs, yearbooks, student newspapers and more, dating from the College´s beginnings to the present. Also stored are two special collections, of materials related to the Arboretum and to the American Dance Festival, as well as an informal collection of camel-related objects (possibly the only academic collection in America with cuddly stuffed camels).

The history of the College unfolds not only in its institutional records but also in the personal records of its alumni, staff and faculty. “Those provide insight into particular times, particular people,” Seals says. Her job is to sort, identify and make materials available.
When current students ask about earlier CC students in their families, Seals brings out the old yearbooks. One student learned a bit about a grandmother she never got to meet, through yearbook notes about a young woman who was always running to class, because she was always late. Another student cried when she saw her grandmother — young and beautiful — in a yearbook photo.

Frequently, Seals gets requests for copies of a silent film of a 1920´s graduation, complete with procession, laurel chain and a concert (seen but not heard) on the green. Then there´s the recurring October request: “Every year, around Halloween, I get at least 10 requests, from faculty, students and staff about campus ghosts,” she says.

She´s pleased when she can help a researcher find new paths. One student sought information on Vinal Cottage — once a co-op where students did all the cleaning and cooking — for an architecture course. Seals found material that included correspondence about the termination of the home economics major at the College, including a letter from a dismayed businessman who loved the way his wife, a CC alumna, had learned to keep a tidy house and cook delicious meals. The student gained material for a gender-studies course in the archives as well.

Seals relishes what she calls the “treasure hunt” for information and the “aha!” of a truly enlightening discovery.

Donations to the archives are welcome, especially those with documentation and those in areas where there are now gaps. For instance, she points to a shortage of varied material on campus life in the 1970s and early 1980s. “Conn went coed in 1969, and the 1970s was a particularly important time in the institution´s history. We really should have more historical documentation to represent that period,” she notes.

Recently she saw something to fill an earlier gap. The archives hold only three pictures of the College´s first president, Frederick H. Sykes, but when a man whose aunt was in the Class of 1919 invited Seals to look into the boxes in his garage, she spotted a publication with a photo, taken by the aunt, of President Sykes. Now she hopes to find the original photo.

But to all of us who have photos that matter (and may matter more than we realize), Seals says: Do not put them in a garage. See the accompanying sidebar for more of her good advice.

Take care of family photographs

Take care of family photographs, Seals advises, because they tell so much about your own life and the lives of your ancestors and relatives. Besides, she adds, “You never know what somebody´s future holds.” She recalls working during her internship with a much sought-after photo of a four-year-old named Ernest Hemingway. “His parents had no idea what he would be,” she notes.

Seals´ tips for photo care:

- Use acid-free papers and binders, available from companies such as lightimpressionsdirect.com.

- Use Mylar-D, polyester or polypropylene photo sleeves.

- Mark sleeves (before inserting photos) with pigma pens or film-marking pens.

- Use acid-free mounting corners — or triangular tabs — to position photos in scrapbooks.

- Avoid adhesives, which will damage photos over time.

- Don´t store photos (or family documents) anywhere damp, dusty or susceptible to flooding. Attics, basements and garages — all popular spots — are not good choices.


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