The Secret Beginning of “The Fritz”

As many of us know the Chester Fritz Library first opened its doors in the fall of 1961. What many of us do not know is that before the dedication and the official opening of the library, many secrets were kept and packs made.  Chester Fritz did not simply donate his money to the school, he made sure the school, in particular the library system, was in need of his generosity.

In 1957 Chester Fritz first had the idea to donate his money to UND for a library, but he did not immediately send a letter to the University President or even the Head of Libraries on campus.  He instead contacted his aunt living in Illinois at the time, who would become an essential player in the final result of the donation money being given to UND, Kathrine Tiffany.  Tiffany’s role as the intermediary initially between Fritz and the head of libraries on campus, Jon R. Ashton, and then between Fritz and President Starcher, cannot be overstated in its importance.  Fritz’s initial letter to Tiffany outlined his ideas about the donation.

When Tiffany first contacted the university on Fritz’s behalf, she contacted only Jon Ashton. Fritz wanted an opinion on the condition of the current library from the head of libraries only, his unbridled opinion, Tiffany actually swore Ashton to secrecy so that only he was aware of the plot.  About one month after Tiffany contacted Ashton, she, on Fritz’s behalf, sent a letter to President Starcher regarding the possibility of a sizable donation from a former alum.  She did not tell Starcher who the donation would come from, but needless to say, Starcher was on the edge of seat for more information.

It would take a much closer inspection of President Starcher’s personal papers to gage his mood on being left out of the loop and strung along for those first months of communication between Fritz, Tiffany, and Ashton, but it would more than likely make for an interesting blog post, if such papers exist.

Chester Fritz sent Starcher the official donation letter from his villa in Rome on February 8, 1958, which finally named him as the donor and outlined the terms of his donation.  It is evident that Fritz had been planning the donation for a long while because only a little more than a week after he had mailed his donation letter to Starcher, most likely before Starcher even received the letter, he mailed a letter to Tiffany regarding a room in the Fritz that could be dedicated to some of his artifacts he had accumulated on his travels in Asia.

There were a few different ideas about where to place the library initially, here is one of the ideas that was not chosen, see if you can spot the library. Tiffany periodically checked in on the construction of the library to be able to send correspondence back to Fritz about the progress, an activity President Starcher regularly engaged in as well.  Finally on October 18, 1961, the library was dedicated with President Starcher’s speech.

For those of you who read this post, what would you like to see on the blog next?

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Also, our official website for the Fritz at 50.

A Library Dedicated Fifty Years Ago

Our local paper, The Grand Forks Herald provided a well-written article sharing with the public what we are working to commemorate, the fiftieth anniversary of the Chester Fritz Library. Their linking to our site is quite appreciated.

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of the dedication of the library. The University sent out many invitations to library staffs across the country inviting them to Grand Forks to share in our happiness and celebration of a new library facility. While most were unable to attend due to the distance to get to Grand Forks, they sent well wishes and some shared similar experiences of recent library constructions on their own campuses, which reflected the major changes coming to college and university campuses as they adjusted to different and expanding student populations both from veterans on the GI Bill to baby boomers entering adulthood.

Our library has changed much over the last fifty years. It has expanded in size, grown its collection, and incorporated new technologies to increase its accessibility to patrons, while changing how those patrons use it. It is the largest library in the state and is the heart of the UND campus. Chester Fritz’s donation of $1 million has certainly returned well in the thousands of students who have gained knowledge and their education through the library. Congratulations to the staff of the Chester Fritz Library on fifty wonderful years.

Check out the Fritz at 50 celebration at http://library.und.edu/fritz-at-50/

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And our Omeka page http://fritzat50.omeka.net/

Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections

Elwyn B. Robinson, does that name sound familiar?  Ask most students on the University of North Dakota campus and they will tell you it does, but most of them cannot place the name specifically.  The reason the name should sound familiar to UND students is because the Department of Special Collections, on the fourth floor of the Chester Fritz Library, was renamed for Robinson in 1986.

Elwyn Burns Robinson was born on October 13, 1905, on a farm in Ohio.  He earned a B.A. in English at Oberlin College and at Western Reserve University he earned both his M.A. in 1932 and Ph.D in 1936.  In 1935 he moved to Grand Forks, ND with his new wife Eva Foster to take a teaching position at the University of North Dakota.  After he began teaching at UND, he contributed many works to North Dakota History, most prominent among these was his book “History of North Dakota.”  Other important works of his were his radio broadcasts “Hero’s of North Dakota” and his essay “The Themes of North Dakota History.”

Sure, Elwyn Robinson was a great history professor and scholar, but why did the university decide to name the North Dakota Archive after him?  The answer lies with his work outside the classroom at UND.  During his tenure at UND, Robinson fought continuously for more research material and collections on North Dakota history.  In 1961 the Chester Fritz Library was built and there would be from then on a permanent department in which to store collections on North Dakota history.

After his death in 1985, the University, along with Robinson’s two sons, Stephen and Gordon, set up an endowment fund to honor Elwyn Robinson.  The fund was to be used to acquire collection material for the Special Collections Archive.  A decision was made by the University to rename the archive The Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections.  The dedication ceremony included beautiful programs, a portrait of Elwyn Robinson just outside of the department, and many attendees (also, a letter from Governor Sinner congratulating the Chester Fritz Library and apologizing for missing the event).  Before the event there was also an invitation sent out to all history department alums inviting them to attend the dedication and partake in a historic reunion.

Elwyn Robinson’s donations to the discourse of North Dakota history along with his determination to contribute anything and everything he could find on the history of North Dakota earned him the honor of having the very department he worked so hard to expand and nurture renamed for him.  I would urge anyone interested in North Dakota history to refer to Robinson’s works on the subject.

Entering documents into Omeka

One of the interesting things about digital history is learning a new platform and trying to understand new terminology for data related to a digital item. Dealing with manuscripts in a classical sense usually involved taking notes on a letter or other manuscript and possibly making a copy of the item. With technology, research into manuscripts has changed at many institutions, though some repositories retain elements of the old school way of engaging materials. If I desire, I can take a letter and scan it into PDF, saving it to a jump drive for later use, which increases the versatility of the document, as I am not tied to the reading room taking notes on said document.

Omeka allows us to create a digital archive of collections of items on a given subject. You upload a file, or files, group them into collections, and they are accessible to the world via the Internet. While this sounds simple, there are some important considerations that can represent small challenges to the novice digital historian.

I have several letters from one of the folders in the University Archives collection # 28 relating to the Chester Fritz Library. These letters are replies from the dozens of institutions that the University sent invitations to attend the dedication for the Chester Fritz Library. While many are standard form letters indicating an inability to attend, there are a few interesting ones, which is a subject for another post.

Uploading these to Omeka is a simple process in that you find the file and add it, but there is important information needed to make the addition complete. This is the metadata, including Dublin Core information. This data provides greater detail as opposed to placing a PDF on the web with no supporting information. In Omeka, you have several items you can enter into the Dublin Core section, some that seem simple are a bit confusing. For instance, there are spaces to insert Format, Type, and Identifier, and while these are not required to add an item, they are important in providing greater detail to an object. The challenge is how the system lays out entering such data, providing a text box, where perhaps a drop down menu might be more appropriate. It’s a minor issue, but one where a change in interface could help those new to the platform overcome any concerns about making a mistake. Of course the best thing about digital history is that you can always edit it if you make a mistake.