In the ever-changing landscape of academia, universities must adapt to better meet the needs of their communities. Southwestern is no exception, as it embarks on a transformative journey within its library. The University is changing the name of its Special Collections and Archives to Distinctive Collections and Archives.

According to the Head of Distinctive Collections and Archives, Megan Firestone, the decision to change the name is part of a broader trend across special collections departments at various universities. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was one of the first institutions to make the change, and others have followed suit. The trend highlights the importance of staying in sync with the evolving needs and perceptions of both academic and local communities.

“The name Special Collections has, for some, created an unintended barrier, giving the impression that access is limited to only those with a special reason to visit,” Firestone explained, “The move to Distinctive Collections aims to break down this barrier and welcome everyone to come in and explore the items held within our collections.

Southwestern houses a diverse collection of materials, some of which may seem ordinary at first glance but possess inherent value and uniqueness. The term distinctive conveys that these collections are not just special but hold qualities that set them apart. For example, within the archives are items like comic books and zines, a cuneiform tablet from approximately 2000 BCE, Senator John Towers papers, over 20,000 rare books, and many more materials that are unique because of their content, history, and context. The new name allows for a broader interpretation of what collections can be. It also fosters inclusivity, aiming to invite anyone, regardless of their academic or personal background, to explore the stories, experiences, and knowledge contained within.

“The collection is developing to be distinctive, unique, and reflective of Southwestern,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs Alisa Gaunder. “It will be a great space for students to make connections within courses, across courses, as well as with co-curricular experiences such as internships or community-engaged learning.”

The transition is more than just a name change; it reflects the University’s commitment to preserving and sharing unique and valuable materials with the community. It’s a move that underscores inclusivity, accessibility, and the recognition of the distinctive qualities of the collections held within its hallowed walls. Southwestern is keeping up with the times and setting an example for other institutions in the field.