Recently, I had the opportunity for a behind the scenes tour of the archives and was very impressed with the state of the art facilities. The building is set back from the street and surrounded by mature trees. Researchers enter the facilities and can see the beauty of the trees from the floor to ceiling windows in the library.
Most of the information one needs for a successful visit (hours of operation, parking, location, and contact information) can be found on their website. Some resources need to be collected before your visit and contacting the Archives before a visit is recommended to insure what you need is available.
I found the behind the scenes tour fascinating. The majority of the archives collection is stored in what is called "The Box". It is a generation fifth retrieval system which is a storage facility management system that allows for greater security and collections management. The archives are stored in 32 foot tall racks that require the use of a lift machine called 'Raymond', which only trained operators may use, and are retrieved using bar codes. This part of the tour showed how massive the WMU collection is. It is the largest in Southwest Michigan and one of the largest in Michigan.
In addition to "supporting the mission of the University it also meets the needs of historical and genealogical researchers", according to its website. Some of the collections available at the WMU Archives includes:
- Regional History Manuscripts-letters, diaries, business records, photographs and more.
- Regional Governmental Records-public records from 12 southwest Michigan counties: Allegan, Barry, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, Kent, Muskegon, Ottawa, St. Joseph and Van Buren.
- Michilimackinac Research and Translation Project Collection-microfilmed French documents about the settlement of the Great Lakes and North America.
- University Archives-departmental records, yearbooks (1906-1987), photographs, Western Herald (WMU newspaper) and more.
- Oral Histories-histories collected throughout the 1960's and 1970's from the Kalamazoo community. This is one collection that researchers need to schedule to use.
- Census Records-Federal and State. See website for dates.
- Books, Magazine, Newspapers-city directories, county histories, rare volumes, Michigan Civil War resources, and other local resources.
- Photographs-individuals, Ward Morgan Collection of Kalamazoo area, Southwestern Michigan Civil War, University and more.
Five collections, with more being added, are digitized and available for all users on the WMU Archives Website:
- Michigan Manual of Freedman's Progress Book
- Caroline Bartlett Crane's Everyman's House Collection
- United States Civil War Collection
- Ward Morgan Collection
- Western Michigan University Yearbooks (1906-1975)
Researchers to the new facility will find the staff ready and willing to help. It is a wonderful addition to the resource facilities of Michigan.