By Timothy W. Patterson
Delaware State University has a long and proud history, from its beginnings as Delaware State College in 1891, to its position as one of the top HBCU’s in the country today. With that history comes a wealth of documents, artifacts and awards that define DSU’s identity. The job of meticulously collecting and preserving such artifacts falls to the University’s archivist, located in the William C. Jason Library, Rejoice Scherry.
Scherry tells the Hornet, “Here’s where we store all of the historic records of the University, dating all the way back to 1891, so we are trying to preserve 126 years of existence.”
She continues, “People’s memories fade, or people pass on, and they can’t necessarily share the history of this institution, and so, by having an archive, we are remembering events of the past that help us to understand where we’ve been and what we’re working towards.”
The University Archives room is like a treasure trove hidden in plain sight. Scherry’s office and Archives Gallery is located on the first floor of the library, near the main elevator, but, according to the archivist, not many students are aware of its existence. The Archives are littered with relics of the past, some too fragile to even see the light of day.
Scherry relates, “Some of [the documents] are chemically unstable, which means that they have a lot of acid contained in the paper, which is a slow reaction (we commonly call it a slow fire), which is slowly destroying itself. So we put them in acid-free containers, which slows down that reaction, and we’re able to preserve it for a lot longer. Sometimes, in really rare cases, the document is beyond saving, so we’ll digitize it, and retain a digital copy.”
Delaware State’s own Hornet Newspaper has been digitized and carefully preserved in the archives, every issue, and the new Hornet Online.
Ms. Scherry has a busy day in front of her, each and every day, having a position that is relatively new. “[The Archive] was an idea that came about in the early 2000s, and it was just sort of an informal project that some of the librarians contributed to, and then in 2012, they decided that they wanted to get serious about it, and so they hired the very first formal archivist.”
Having experience as an archivist in other libraries, and after seeing some strange things in her time (she relates, “I’ve seen some crazy things, like hairy books!”), Ms. Scherry took the position as Delaware State’s archivist in 2015. “In total, the Archives have been formally in existence for about five years.”
While not finding any hairy books (as a result of damage and mold to leather, she reveals) at DSU, Scherry has found a few mementoes that really speak volumes about the school’s position in history. “Probably the most exciting thing I’ve found is a silk flag from the State College for Colored Students, which is what DSU was originally known as, and it is something that would have flown on this campus, so it’s just a nice piece of history that recalls a lot of memories.”
Some of her duties as an archivist include processing collections into organized files, cataloging documents into a useable way for the University, and making items accessible for student and community research. “I also do a lot of digitization work and marketing/outreach through blogs, where I talk with people like alumni.”
Her main focus is on the Archives Gallery, “which eats up a lot of my time, but it’s something that I really enjoy doing. I curate artifacts and research their history, and put them in a story that people can identify with.” The current display Ms. Scherry worked on and set up is one that focuses on the Tuskegee Airmen, in time for Black History Month. The following is a video detailing this visit.