A student assistant and an intern at Mary Helen Cochran Library are working to preserve Sweet Briar’s history for generations to come. Using the open-source web publishing platform Omeka, Nicole Epperson ’14 and Rebecca Thomson have spent several months scanning and uploading photographs dating back to the College’s earliest days.
Epperson, an English major and studio art minor who has been working at the library for four years, began organizing images from the library archives in 2012. When Thomson came to Sweet Briar in September, the two started creating a website that now contains not only galleries, but also metadata about each photo.
“[The project’s] purpose is to make our archival photographs more readily available to the Sweet Briar community and the world at large, while preserving their fragile state by reducing the need for people to see them in person,” said Thomson, who completed her Master of Library and Information Science at Simmons College last year.
So far, the virtual exhibit features approximately 450 images divided into three categories — the library, tap clubs and riding. There’s even a page dedicated to Captain Vladimir S. Littauer, who taught riding clinics at Sweet Briar for more than 25 years.
The College’s tap clubs and their traditions particularly fascinated Epperson, a member of the newest club BAM, which focuses on community involvement and campus improvement.
During a presentation to the Friends of the Library on Friday, she showed some of her favorite images, including a 1941 picture of the Chung Mungs, Paints ‘n’ Patches in 1912, and a 1949 photo of the Bum Chums posing in a tree. Interestingly, Epperson noted, there are variations of that same image spanning at least 20 years, indicating that the tree had some significance to the club.
But despite thorough research, she hasn’t been able to determine which tree it was and why it was so important.
“Of course I can’t just go and ask the Bum Chums because they won’t tell you,” she said, alluding to the secretive nature of Sweet Briar’s tap clubs.
In addition to the three existing galleries, there will also be a collection dedicated to May Day.
“[It’s] the only new collection we have in mind at the moment, but we are open to suggestions,” said librarian Liz Kent Léon, who oversees the ongoing project.
Meanwhile, Léon is writing Wikipedia articles about each of Sweet Briar’s presidents with the goal of linking the two websites to provide additional information. Other tidbits, she hopes, will come from alumnae, faculty and staff who are browsing the photos and might be able to identify some of the faces in them.
Most tap club and equestrian photos are still private, but all images will be viewable soon at cochranlibraryarchive.omeka.net. Visitors will then also be able to add comments. For now, everyone with information about the photos is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.