Faces of Rollins examines different departments of the college that the average student does not know about, and the people who work in those departments. This week I was able to meet with Wenxian Zhang, head of Archives and Special Collections at the Olin Library.
Every person who comes to Rollins brings his or her personal story, and every person who leaves Rollins adds to the narrative that is the History of Rollins. No one knows this narrative better than Wenxian Zhang.
Along with a handful of student workers, he and Archival Specialist Darla Moore maintain the archives and special collections of Rollins. They keep all copies of The Sandspur, starting with its original printing in 1894 when it was still a literary journal. They also have a copy of every issue of Tomokan, Rollins’ yearbook.
The collection also features honors theses completed by Rollins students and records of almost every student to have graduated. They have historical photos of the different athletic teams from a variety of different times in the college’s history, photos of the first set of faculty members that ever worked at the college (and many sets of faculty photos taken since), photos of the many different buildings that once stood on this campus, and maps of the campus starting from its founding when Winter Park was, in the words of one of Rollins’ first professors, William Webster Lloyd, a “forest of telegraph poles in a sandy desert.”
A lot of activity happens in the Department of Archives and Special Collections. Students, faculty members and even researchers from other institutions all use Rollins’ archives and special collections. One of the most impressive collections is the Walt Whitman Collection, made possible by an endowment from one of Whitman’s close friends. “We have one of the best Whitman collections in the country,” says Zhang. The prize of this collection is a rare first edition of Whitman’s masterpiece Leaves of Grass.
“We remain very busy. Sometimes slow [but], sometimes people wait in lines,” Zhang shared. It is those days of slowness that seem to bother Zhang the most. “I want people to know that we exist,” he said. “This is the place for them to come to learn about the history of the college. Sometimes you run into students and they do not even know we have an archive. They come here for four years and never come to the archives.” Anyone who cannot make it to the first floor of the library during its operating hours (from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays) can visit the website.
You can go to http://www.rollins.edu/library and click on the link “Find Special Collections and Archives” to pull a database of the different collections and photographs they have compiled. Whether you visit the archives in person or on the Internet, you will be exposed to a wealth of history and stories that you never knew existed and to the wonderful people who keep it all safe.