Special Collections Prove a Hidden Treasure of the Oviatt Library

Compilation of pictures from early campus years, including CSUN sculptor, San Fernando Valley State College cheerleaders, and the Delmar T. Oviatt Library

Special Collections and Archives is the key place on campus to find primary sources in numerous disciplines. Pictured above is a photo of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library from the University Archives. Photo courtesy of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library.

Bustling with students, faculty, staff and visitors at all hours of the day, the Delmar T. Oviatt Library is hardly hidden to the California State University, Northridge community.

However, Special Collections and Archives, tucked in the west wing of the second floor, houses the university’s rare book and periodical collections, as well as its archival and manuscript collections. These collections serve students and researchers from on and off campus in a host of disciplines.

Spines of old books on a shelf

Special Collections and Archives has primary texts available for research. Photo courtesy of the Delmar T. Oviatt Library.

The department’s holdings consist of a variety of materials, including rare books, periodicals, correspondence, diaries, maps, university records, organizational records, photographs, and audio and video recordings. Patrons can do research, examine primary sources and view exhibitions. CSUN’s Special Collections and Archives is home to more than 45,000 books and 350 manuscript andarchival collections that support the university’s curriculum — as well as the research interests of faculty and students on campus.

“We work very hard to be sure our collections are not hidden, [and] we have a lot of information about them and how to use them on the library’s website,” said Ellen Jarosz, special collections and archives librarian. “[Those] who use materials in Special Collections and Archives have the opportunity to make first-hand observations, explore, investigate and think critically to draw their own conclusions, rather than rely solely upon the scholarship of others.”

The Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles Collection — which consists of documents donated to the Oviatt Library by leaders of that nonprofit — is a small part of the department’s holdings, which includes five defined collections. Yet, it was in the federation’s collection that academic and author Laura Rosenzweig helped recently launch CSUN’s archives into the public spotlight. Rosenzweig noted in the Jewish Review of Books that the collection holds “surprising” and relatively “unknown” counterpoints to the discussion surrounding Hollywood’s relationship to the Nazi regime, a revelation she felt could only be made through her research at the Northridge campus. Her work, along with that of several other scholars who used this particular collection, is due to be published over the next few years.

For those seeking to trace the history of minorities, political movements and developments in the City of Angels, the Urban Archives are an open treasure chest. Established in 1979 through the efforts of university faculty, concerned community organizations and civic leaders, the archives hold and collect significant records starting from the late 19th century. These records include documents from voluntary associations, local political figures, prominent citizens and civic leaders who have contributed to the growth of Los Angeles County. Of particular interest is the development of education throughout the region, social movements that formed the political landscape of LA and the women and citizens of color who contributed to this scene.

Ever wonder where the curvaceous CSUN sculpture in front of the Orange Grove Bistro came from? Special Collections and Archives uncovers the secret in CSUN’s University Archives, which include documentation from San Fernando Valley State College through CSUN’s more recent endeavors. A repository for the historical papers of administration, Faculty Senate, colleges, departments and student activities on campus, the university’s records are a rich resource for anyone seeking to highlight the central role the campus has played in the San Fernando Valley.

Compilation featuring Chinese characters, a primary text, and a sepia photograph of people living in China

The Old China Hands archive contains texts and sources focusing on the role foreigners played in China during a hectic time in the country’s history. Photo courtesy of Delmar T. Oviatt Library.

Though individuals and organizations from the greater Los Angeles area donated many of the collections in the department, a few professors also have founded compilations. Robert Gohstand of CSUN’s geography department established the Old China Hands Archives in 1996 to preserve and publicize the heritage of the many foreigners who have resided and worked in China. Uncovering the personal experiences of the expatriates who settled in the region, including refugees from Nazi Germany and communist Russia, journalists and missionaries, provides a  window into a turbulent phase of China’s history.

Special Collections and Archives is also home to the International Guitar Research Archives (IGRA). Founded in 1980 after the donation of the Vahdah Olcott-Bickford Collection, IGRA now holds one of the world’s largest collections of guitar sheet music, resources documenting the lives and careers of numerous guitarists and professional associations, periodicals, correspondence, photographs, audio recordings in various formats and printed books. Other materials document the careers of noted performers such as Andrés Segovia, Laurindo Almeida, Vicente Gomez, Randy Rhoads and Neil Anderson.

“By studying materials in the [archives], [researchers] can distinguish themselves as creative thinkers who synthesize information and develop sound ideas supported by evidence discovered in primary sources,” Jarosz said. “[Researchers] will gain a deeper understanding of the people, places and events that have worked to shape the modern world.”