UNT’s Special Collections department was awarded $164,400 through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ (CLIR) Hidden Collections program for the 2014-2016 project Post-War Industry and Development of the Southwest Metroplex. Hidden collections are those collections that reside within libraries, archives, or cultural heritage institutions; yet, are undiscoverable due to non-existent or inefficient description. The Special Collections department explored the hidden collections residing within UNT’s holdings and discovered several hidden collections that related to the explosive growth the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex has experienced over the past 70 years. These previously undescribed or partially described collections included topics such as urban planning, politics, industry, housing, economics, industrial education and major infrastructure projects of the north Texas region such as the Superconducting Super Collider.  

Unlike many large American urban areas, the Dallas Fort Worth area is poorly represented in terms of collection development related to the postwar development of the region. Urban historians in particular point to the scarcity of available sources available on the topic resulting in a lack of serious scholarly research concentrated on DFW, one of the largest urban areas in the South and Southwest. Project staff immediately recognized the potential impact such collections could contribute to scholarly research and, with the assistance of the CLIR Hidden Collections grant, set about making these collections available and accessible.

In addition to processing the hidden collections, project staff are publicizing the project and the collections it encompasses. A project blog is the primary outreach tool to being used to connect with the research community and public. The Discovering the Southwest Metroplex blog (https://blogs.library.unt.edu/southwest-metroplex) highlights UNT’s archival holdings by featuring some of the collections of the Post-War Industry and Development of the Southwest Metroplex project as well as other UNT collections that related to the topic.

Potential topics for the blog postings are identified by the project archivist and student assistants as they process collections. They take note of any interesting finds they come across during descriptive activities that may appeal to the community and share these findings with special collections bloggers. Examples of the hidden collections and materials highlighted so far by blog posts include the winning proposal to bring the Superconducting Super Collider to Texas; early photographs of the DFW metroplex and DFW International Airport planning documents from the Lester Strother Texas Metro Collection; and documents pertaining to the Southwest Federal Regional Council from the Dr. John T. Thompson Papers collection.

Blog posts also showcase previously processed collections held by UNT Special Collections that support the Postwar Industry and Development of the Southwest Metroplex theme. The most popular post is about the Frank Cuellar, Sr. Collection and describes the meteoric rise of the Cuellar family from running a small tamale booth at the Kaufman County Fair to head of the multimillion dollar El Chico corporation in the 1970s.

Feedback concerning the blog has been so positive that the special collections department has determined to make the blog an ongoing activity after the projected completion date of the CLIR funded Hidden Collections project in April of 2016. Currently underway are efforts to revamp the UNT Libraries blog platform to allow for more customizable features per individual departments, better integrated image galleries and embedded video.

Based on some of the feedback received from previous blog postings, another planned strategy is to begin reaching out directly to targeted communities via other social media avenues with links to postings that concern materials and collections that relate to those specific communities. The expectation is that these efforts will result in exposure to and interest in archival collections and primary source materials from communities where none previously existed.

Jaime Janda, project archivist and Morgan Gieringer, head of special collections, will present a paper on this project and the Discovering the Southwest Metroplex blog at the 2015 CLIR Hidden Collections conference.

The experiences being gained through UNT’s CLIR Hidden Collections project are transforming UNT Special Collections’ outreach endeavors. Through its ongoing efforts to “uncover” hidden collections, Special Collections are learning that sometimes just processing a collection is not enough, and that blogs and social media can help reveal our collections to entirely new audiences.

-- by Bridgett Tanner