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Apr 06 2015

Collection Surprises

By Rachel Jacobson and Rose Buchanan

Floppy disks from the Raymond LeRoy Murray Papers

For processors of archival collections, it becomes second nature to look for groups of similar records produced as a result of the collection creator’s activities. When organizing collections, it is not unusual to come across materials other than paper documents. There may be relics of the past discovered amongst the files. For example, an odd floppy disk or VHS tape may turn up every now and again. Some artifacts may be a bit more unusual.

In a Special Collections Research Center with a broad collecting scope, one must be prepared to discover an occasional strange artifact. Recently, two peculiar artifacts have been discovered here at NCSU. One of the artifacts was a bit jarring while the other brightens up the collection it is a part of by contributing to the collection’s uniqueness. The jarring artifact was found as part of an addition to a collection that was already established, the James F. Wright Papers.

The unexpected artifact brings two questions to a processor’s mind. One, in which part of the collection could this artifact fit? Two, how should one store potentially hazardous materials? Answering these questions is all in a day’s work at the Special Collection Research Center. As this collection only has one series and materials are being arranged in the order they were received, the answer to the first question was not as complicated as it could have been. However, because such materials may be dangerous, it was decided that the tranquilizer gun should be held under restricted use for researchers’ safety.

Marble made from borosilicate glass, a nuclear waste storage material

Other unexpected artifacts, however, are safe to use and in fact add a sense of quirkiness to a collection. This was the case with the Raymond LeRoy Murray Papers. Dr. Murray was a physics professor at NCSU in the Nuclear Engineering program and was a key figure in establishing the University’s nuclear reactor, the first reactor operated on a college campus. While arranging his papers, processors came across a small marble made from borosilicate glass. As the card accompanying the marble said, “This nonradioactive marble is made with glass from a full-sized glass melter developed especially for defense nuclear waste.”

A quirky artifact indeed! While the marble does not pose a safety risk like the tranquilizer gun, processors still had to determine where the marble would best fit in the collection. Since the marble was discovered in a folder of “souvenirs” that Dr. Murray kept from his time in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, the processors decided to include the marble with teaching materials, rather than place it with reactor material which may fit more closely with research. This decision was made in part because of the artifact’s provenance. As the artifact was found in a previously sorted carton filled with teaching related documents, it seemed the logical choice to keep the artifact in the same series with the material stored near to it. Perhaps Dr. Murray picked the marble up during a visit to a nuclear waste disposal facility and later showed it to his students. Or Dr. Murray and others in the Department of Nuclear Engineering may have given prospective students each a marble as a “souvenir” of their visit to the University.  Either way, researchers may view this artifact, and other interesting finds, by contacting the Special Collections Research Center.