Quarantine blog – Manuscript Department 

This week’s blog is written by Robert Weaver, assistant archivist of the Southwest Collection, and provides an update on what the manuscript department has been working on while at home.

Six weeks of working from home, with two weeks to go. Can an archive do real, legitimate work in such an environment? Of course it can, and shame on you for asking. Even without our physical archival materials close at hand, the Southwest Collection has been churning out archival goodies!

Take for example our nearly 1,000 finding aids on Texas Archival Resources Online (http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/browse/browse_tech1.html). The Southwest Collection curates nearly 500 of these, with our fellow TTU archives (The Sowell Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World; the Texas Tech University Archives; and the Crossroads of Music Archive) maintaining the remainder. And of the SWC’s 500, 421 required extensive revision in order to ensure that researchers like you can more easily discover them online. And now, after years of having this on our plate, and weeks of work-from-home effort, those changes have been uploaded. You’re welcome!

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Browsing the SWC’s TARO website.

Now, you may not know this, but the Southwest Collection has been around since the founding of Texas Tech University and was officially designated a campus entity in the 1950s. Decades of labor have led to just shy of 2,500 manuscript collections available for public research. “But Robert!” you might exclaim. “You said you only have 500 finding aids!” Calm down! I did say that. But through the efforts of two amazing student employees—Alison Pruitt and JoHanna Haiduk—who worked daily through the Fall and Spring semesters (right up until the campus closed and, fingers crossed, once the University re-opens), we are flying through that backlog. Those two were able to inventory over 600 collections, putting us over a quarter of the way there! Told you they were amazing.

However, making a finding aid isn’t simply a matter of uploading an inventory. From the moment a collection gets dollied into our stacks we document who created it, why they created it, how it relates to other collections, and a wealth of other information. This “metadata” gets organized and input into the XML code of an online finding aid, where its presence ensures that researchers can determine whether the collection is useful to them. The finding aid for the papers of Texas Governor Coke Stevenson are a good example of such metadata done right: http://legacy.lib.utexas.edu/taro/ttusw/00394/tsw-00394.html.

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Governor Coke R. and Marguerite King Heap Stevenson TARO Finding Aid

That part of the job is time consuming. Archival Associate Sarah Stephenson, who recently left us for the urban sprawl of Austin, Texas; Zach Hernandez, added to the staff mere days before TTU closed its doors; and myself have since last October slowly worked one finding aid at a time, piecing together this data. And we’re making progress! Over the work from home weeks, Zach alone has finished up over 200 finding aids that I will absolutely upload as soon as I can get the FTP program to work properly through my home firewall.

And there you have it. A manuscript archive run from the comfort of pajamas, home-ground coffee, and music turned up as loud as we want because we’re not at the office. And always remember, we’re doing this for you, the researcher. If you need something, contact our ever-helpful Reference Staff (https://swco.ttu.edu/refaccess.php) and they’ll get these things into your hands.

Stay safe and healthy out there, y’all!

The Lubbock Tornado, Fifty Years Later

May 11, 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the deadly F5 tornado that devastated Lubbock Texas. Prior to COVID-19 times, the Southwest Collection had planned a symposium entitled “The Lubbock Tornado, Fifty Years Later” that would have explored weather, history, and culture on the South Plains. Two full days of over thirty-five speakers would have discussed initial recovery efforts, art and music born out of the disaster, the history of and research from the National Wind Institute, the memorial gateway project, and reexaminations of the tornado itself.

At this point, most memorial-ization events across the city have been postponed to 2021, including the dedication of the aforementioned memorial gateway project. We have penciled in May 7-8, 2021 for our symposium’s rescheduled date. If this become untenable, we hope at least that our presenters will write up their talks so that we can provide a digital repository. The Southwest Collection’s goal has always been to preserve the history of this milestone Lubbock weather event. Regardless of the end medium or venue, we will continue that mission.

This week and next, in the absence of the symposium, the memorial dedication, and general gatherings to commemorate the lives lost and forever changed by this weather event, we wanted to highlight some of the Southwest Collection holdings that can assist researchers.

First, please check out a previous blog postthat covers many of our holdings, along with a specific write up on the Ted Fujita papers.

Lubbock AJ Photos

Prior to our building shut down in late March, photos from the immediate aftermath of the May 1970 tornado from the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal were added to our dspace. Some of these images are black and white versions of images found in the Lubbock Tornado picture book published in June 1970.


Downtown business Fields & Company was hit especially hard by the 1970 Lubbock tornado. “Image 128- Fields Building” https://hdl.handle.net/10605/358050


Oral Histories

As might be expected, the Lubbock tornado was a frequent topic of discussion in oral history interviews. This author (our AV Unit Manager) is currently writing a history of the oral history documentary efforts done in the aftermath of the tornado (which was to be presented at the symposium). Abstracts of interviews have been grouped together here: https://swco.ttu.edu/ohc/index.php?title=Category:Lubbock_Tornado

Many of our recently transcribed interviews also discuss the tornado. Check out our dspace and search for “tornado.” One example is Andy Wilkinson’s 2014 interview with Heenan Johnson, who was part of the disaster committee and city rebuilding efforts.

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Looking out of a downtown building, tangled blinds, and broken windows. “Image 36- Untitled image of tornado damage,” https://hdl.handle.net/10605/357957

Other Research and Reports

One thing that our symposium and exhibit sought to highlight was the research efforts that grew out of the Lubbock tornado disaster. The National Wind Institute, for example, began when Texas Tech scientists authored a damage investigation of the tornado (a hard copy is available in our Reading Room). Other reports are available online:

“A Report on the Lubbock Tornado” was produced by the city of Lubbock and presented in October 1970 by Mayor James Granberry

“The Economics of Federal Disaster Relief: Lubbock, Texas, A Case Study” was written in 1972 for the city by Texas Tech College of Business Administration faculty

Also a quick search of our Texas Tech theses and dissertation digital repository can highlight the immense research students have done in the past 50 years in various avenues of wind science, disaster preparedness, engineering, etc.

The city of Lubbock and the National Wind Institute also has more scanned documents and reports.

Finally, we want to mention that on May 18th, PBS’s American Experience will premiere “Mr. Tornado,” a documentary on Ted Fujita. The documentary film crew spent extensive time in our Reading Room, and worked a great deal with our reference staff.


More on Texas Tech and the tornado in next week’s blog post.


“For Rent – no pets-” Found in the AJ photos were many examples of humor that Lubbock citizens exhibited even in the midst of sheer and utter devastation. “Image 70- Ridge Road” https://hdl.handle.net/10605/357991