Alumni Gift Enhances University Archives

Carnegie Mellon University students, alumni and researchers will have more opportunities to engage with the University Archives and the history of the university, thanks to the support of CMU alumni Michael and Lonna Smith.

Recent gifts to the University Libraries from Michael Smith, a 1968 graduate of the College of Engineering , and Lonna Smith, a 1969 graduate of the College of Fine Arts , support a number of initiatives to elevate and enhance the materials of the University Archives. These include the buildout of a new gallery space in Hunt Library, an endowment to fund exhibitions that celebrate collections held by the University Archives, and a gift to support digitization and metadata collection activities related to the University’s General Photography Collection.

The new Hunt Library gallery, located in the first floor Emma Sharp Alcove, is a flexible space that allows for creative and experimental displays to engage students, alumni and community members in new and different ways. The gift supported the build out of the gallery and the purchase of display cases of multiple sizes, as well as a new moveable wall, to further augment the space and exhibit visuals.

The gallery will host one exhibit every semester, at least one of which will be centered on material from the University Archives’ collections.

"It’s my hope that the gallery space will help to instill pride in CMU, and more importantly, a sense of belonging and connection," said Lonna Smith. "It’s somewhat akin to looking at photos of your ancestors. You may not have ever known them, but you and they are part of the same family."

"The generous support of Michael and Lonna Smith allows the Libraries to have a dedicated gallery to show the richness of our history," said Keith Webster , the Helen and Henry Posner, Jr. Dean of the University Libraries. "This space will embody the spirit of Carnegie Mellon - celebrating our heritage, while embracing our creative and experimental culture."

The University Archives is home to more than 100 years of CMU’s history. Its mission is to preserve and provide access to records documenting life at CMU and the contributions of its students and faculty. Examples of Archives materials include academic department records, student organization records, faculty and alumni papers, and publications like The Tartan and The Thistle.

The University Archives’ General Photograph Collection consists of 121 linear feet of prints, transparencies and negatives documenting the history of Carnegie Mellon University from the early 1900s to the 2000s. This roughly translates to about one million photographs. Unfortunately, only about 20,000 (2%) of the collection has been digitized, making the bulk of the record accessible only to those who come to campus and search through physical materials.

The Smiths’ gift will support a three-year effort to digitize between 35,000 and 40,000 photos by allowing the University Archives to upgrade equipment and hire a dedicated staff member.

"It’s important for the CMU community to have an understanding of the rich history and traditions of the University, and we feel that the materials in the Archives can be used to provide a glimpse into that history," said Michael Smith.

Michael and Lonna Smith are longstanding CMU alumni, volunteers and donors who support a wide range of programs across all the university at the University Libraries, the College of Fine Arts, and the College of Engineering. In recognition of their professional achievements and generous service to the university, they received the Alumni Service Award at the 2021 CMU Alumni Awards.

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