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A Vault of the Heart

By Elizabeth Grauel

I’ve lived in UD’s records since the day I mailed in my application nearly 20 years ago, and this spring I jumped at the opportunity to hang out in the archives corporeally, too. As part of my work toward a master’s degree in library and information science, I’ve had the chance to spend time back at Roesch Library during a mini-practicum in the Marian Library.

An unexpected emotional assignment

The second day of my internship almost made me cry. I arrived to find a box of documents, postcards, booklets and other odds and ends waiting for me. Its label said “Ephesus,” and it was the first time I’d ever been given a collection of more than 3 linear inches to process. I was excited. I was nervous. I was Googling “Ephesus.” Then I started flipping through what I had right in front of me: a portion of the papers of Father Bert Buby, S.M., professor emeritus of religious studies.

The first folder I opened was full of letters, the first ones typed and handwritten, then printed emails. Buby and Joseph Quatman — the son of George B. Quatman, the founder of the American Society of Ephesus — shared nearly 20 years of correspondence, scholarship and friendship sparked by a mutual interest in Ephesus, an area of western Turkey where many believe the Virgin Mary spent the final years of her life. Among articles and archaeological reports about Ephesus were also personal exchanges such as newspaper clippings of marriage announcements and letters of sympathy and support. Between collaboration on funding and research programs were shared jokes and notes about health. And at the very end of the last file was a printed obituary: Joseph Quatman died on Jan. 11, 2011. 

Lives behind the letters

A box of papers can be a rich store of data, and it can also be a vault of the heart. Working through what is now known as the Father Bert Buby Collection on Ephesus was the first time I had to seriously apply the archival standards skills I’ve been learning in my library school coursework. It made an exquisite case for the archival principle of original order. But the hands-on experience that I will remember most is this: Information is first, foremost and always about people. It is made up of our unique human experiences. What we save in our archives and memory institutions is more than data waiting to be shaped into a research project. It’s the story of peoples’ lives — the accounts of their experiences. And as the keepers of memory and shapers of information access, we are privileged and burdened with the responsibility of preserving this humanity.   

If I were to arrange my life as a series of records, papers, photos and objects, the boxes of UD influence and memories would break my archival budget. UD’s devotion to lifelong learning, leadership and community comes alive in new and unexpected ways when you look for it, and my experience this year as a hybrid alumna-intern at the Marian Library has been an opportunity to develop as an information professional and as a human. The traditions of knowledge, service and community are evergreen.

— Elizabeth Grauel ’08 graduates in the summer of 2023 with her master’s in library information and science at Dominican University.

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