Rock ‘n’ roll brings spotlight to ambitious Library collection
“There is no other collection like this on the planet, not even in Cleveland (home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame),”
Most days, thousands of Sacramento State students walked past the annex on the south side of University Library. Occasionally, someone would venture in, curious to see what’s special about Special Collections or unique in University Archives.
“I have to get them in here,” James Fox, head of the Donald & Beverly Gerth Special Collections & University Archives, would say to himself.
Now, at last, students and others are coming through the doors. Reasons for the elevated interest include added signage out front, often-available study tables, and the buzz about the Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection now housed there. The one-of-a-kind collection tells a unique story about Sacramento’s colorful rock ‘n’ roll history.
The music artifacts are part of what Fox foresees as a significant number of scholarly and artistic collections to be housed here. It is an eye-opening early contribution to Fox’s vision.
Dennis Newhall ’73 (Theatre Arts) gave his alma mater a vast collection of historic concert posters and handbills produced by local graphic artists – along with related items – from his now-closed Sacramento Rock & Radio Museum. His initial gift included 1,000 items, and another 3,500 are coming to Sacramento State over time.
Selections from the Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection debuted publicly in February during a reception to thank Newhall.
Fox and Newhall will draw from the collection for a major exhibit that runs Nov. 1-Dec. 13 in the University Library Gallery.
“This is a visually exciting collection,” Fox says. “It appeals to art and design students and faculty, and I can see working with geography students to create a digital map of Sacramento’s historic music venues that you can click on to bring up images of the posters.
“I’ve been looking for a way to get students and faculty engaged with what we’re doing. Once that starts happening, this will start to be known as an active, dynamic place.”
Sac State seeks and accepts for Special Collections paper, photographic, and digital treasures that will help tell the story of Sacramento and California. By definition, Special Collections curates research collections, sometimes from individuals and families. University Archives houses specific documents pertaining to Sacramento State’s operations and history, particularly papers from former leading faculty and administrators.
Among the signature holdings in Special Collections are the Japanese American Archival Collection (one of California’s largest, with donations from nearly 250 Sacramento-area residents); posters created by members of the legendary Royal Chicano Air Force (RCAF) art collective; and the Tsakapolous Hellenic Collection.
Fox recently acquired the personal papers of ceramicist Ruth Rippon and additional material from painter Irving Marcus, both renowned artists who taught at Sacramento State. Fox says he hopes to bring in donations from other notable artists with a connection to the University.
In 2017, he led Sac State’s efforts to land the Sacramento Poetry Center’s archive, which had been stored in residential garages and elsewhere. The documents are significant to the University, given its connection to some of Sacramento’s poets laureate: Dennis Schmitz, professor emeritus of English, was the city’s first poet laureate (an honor shared with Viola Weinberg), in 2000; the late José Montoya, professor emeritus of art and RCAF co-founder, held the title from 2002 to ’04; and Bob Stanley, poet laureate from 2009 to 2012, teaches freshman composition and creative writing, and manages the University Reading and Writing Center.
These acquisitions built on much earlier donations, including the papers of Phil Isenberg, former Sacramento mayor and state Assembly member, and records from the Port of Sacramento, the Sacramento Peace Center, and the California State Commission on School Districts.
After word got out that the Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection had come to Sac State, someone offered to Special Collections his cache of musical instruments. The prospective donation was gently declined.
“We are a university research archive, not a museum nor a display center,” says Amy Kautzman, dean of the University Library. “There are many amazing collections out there that have been lovingly compiled and have value, but they do not fit our mission.”
Special Collections’ purpose is to build collections that align with the curriculum and can be used to support teaching and scholarship on campus, Kautzman says.
“We carefully select what has great interest to the campus for teaching and scholarship, or to the world,” she says. “We also want to represent the history of Sacramento State, Sacramento, and Northern California. We’re lucky when we find a collection that really excites us.”
The Poetry Center’s gift certainly did. It inspired Sac State of Poetry, a twice-monthly series of readings by students, faculty, alumni, and the general public, hosted by Special Collections.
As for the future, librarians plan to make more collections searchable online. So far, just the Japanese American Archival Collection is fully digitized. Next up are the RCAF poster collection and 70 years of the State Hornet student paper, which will be digitized thanks to $25,000 worth of in-kind support from the California Revealed Project.
Then the librarians want to digitize the Sacramento Rock & Radio Collection, which they believe will have worldwide interest.
“There is no other collection like this on the planet, not even in Cleveland (home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame),” Fox says.
Digitizing the vast number of concert posters, handbills, and tickets requires specialized expertise, is expensive, and could take years, given the collection’s size. Fundraising for the project will begin soon.
Kautzman also hopes to continue adding depth to Special Collections by bringing in collections from the various cultures that call Sacramento home.
“We’re looking for what makes Sacramento special so that we can preserve and build on that,” she says.