Digging through the FIU Libraries Special Collections leads to plenty of surprising finds.
The trove of documents, photos, maps, videos, music, artwork and rare books covers a range of subjects, places and time, with a strength in resources related to the Florida Everglades, Miami and countries within the Caribbean. Much of the material exists in a “refrigerator” – a 65-degree, temperature-controlled space bursting with packed shelves in the Green Library on the Modesto A. Maidique Campus.
Department head Althea Silvera has for 25 years overseen the growth, cataloging and, now, digitizing of the collection. In addition to making strategic purchases, she has worked closely with individuals looking to contribute their priceless artifacts to an institution that will both preserve and make them available to scholars and the general public.
“The collection reflects what the university is teaching,” says Silvera, who welcomes whole classes to her area to introduce students to items of potential value to their specific research topics.
For example, architecture students can peruse black-and-white photos of Cuba’s landmarks buildings from the first half of the 20th century. Those interested in Miami’s early history can review deeds, maps and other papers related to the business dealings of pioneers Mary Brickell and Mr. Dana Dorsey, Florida’s first black millionaire. Art history majors have access to two collections of pre-Columbian figures.
A self-proclaimed packrat, Silvera sees the benefit of utilizing resources in the original 3D, whenever possible, especially as not everything is available online.
And, she adds, there is a beauty to the experience that just does not compare with viewing the results of a Google search.
“When you’re handling a seventeenth-century document and the paper is clean, white, pristine rag, and there are wonderful illustrations in the corner, you have to just take a breath.”
The accompanying slide show – the soundtrack for which comes from the Diaz-Ayala Cuban and Latin American Music Collection – is a small window into the library holdings. Click here to browse complete library information.