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Northwestern Library Names New University Archivist

Kevin Leonard began working at University Archives as a Northwestern undergraduate in 1976.

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January 30, 2009 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Kevin Leonard, who began working at University Archives as a Northwestern undergraduate in 1976 and recently was named University Archivist, knows a thing or two about Northwestern University and its history.

"Everything in University Archives has a Northwestern connection, but the contents of its collections come from all over the world," Leonard says. Archives, for example, includes the field notes of faculty members working in South America, Africa and other distant places and often includes things they collected on their travels.

Pointing to materials relating to J. Allen Hynek, a Northwestern professor of astronomy from 1959 to 1978, Leonard notes that "the content of that collection is, well, out of this world."

Hynek, explains the University Archivist, had a keen interest in alleged UFO sightings and in 1972 published "The UFO Experience, a Scientific Inquiry." In that book, he referred to close encounters of the first, second and third kind. Close Encounters of the Third Kind were sightings "in which the presence of animated creatures is reported."

Steven Spiegberg's 1977 blockbuster film of the same name borrowed Hynek's phrase, and, says Leonard, the Northwestern astronomy professor even reviewed the script and made a cameo appearance in the film.

Archives' primary mission, of course, is to acquire the permanently valuable records of the University -- documents that reflect policy and procedure, such as minutes from meetings of the Board of Trustees, official University publications and the records of Northwestern's chief officers.

Archives holds a complete set of the Syllabus, the Northwestern student yearbook; a collection of books written by faculty authors; student organization records; papers of distinguished faculty; hundreds of thousands of photographs and other items documenting nearly every facet of campus life; and much more.

Among Archives collections are the papers of Harold Hulbert, a psychiatrist who was a witness for the defense in Chicago's historic Leopold and Loeb kidnapping and murder trial. Those papers include transcripts of the murderers' confessions, copies of their psychiatric records and even the ransom note Leopold and Loeb sent to slain Bobby Franks' family. "It's a grisly collection," Leonard says.

Last summer Archives began publishing "On This Day in Northwestern History," a feature on the departmental Web site designed to bring wider attention to Archive collections. A blog on the site also highlights collection items and provides information about the services Archives can provide.

People of all ages visit Archives to use the collection to do genealogical, personal or academic research. "Not a day goes by that our collections aren't used by students, faculty and staff, alumni and the general public," Leonard says.

Being University Archivist suits Leonard to a tee. "When you deal in records of the past, you're dealing with the residue of lives both present and past," Leonard says. "I get to meet people all day long -- and not just people in the here-and-now."

As part of a reorganization of the University Library this fall, University Archives and Special Collections were merged into a single new department called Special Collections and Archives. Scott Krafft was named Curator of the Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections and, with Leonard, is Assistant Director of Special Collections and Archives.
Topics: People