Student Spotlight: Tom Beech

Tom Beech in the Special Collections and University Archives Processing Room
Tom Beech in the Special Collections and University Archives Processing Room

The Special Collections and University Archives could not function without the amazing student workers who assist the staff on a daily basis on numerous projects. Our Student Spotlight series highlights these students to showcase their outstanding work, academic interests, and some of their favorite collections in our repository.

Tom Beech
Major: Architecture
Year in School: 5th Year / Senior
Job in SCUA: LSA III / Processing Student

Tell us a little bit about what brought you to Special Collections and University Archives? What made you want to work here, as opposed to other places on campus?

I (luckily) ended up working Special Collections and University Archives completely by chance. Originally I had applied to work in the main library, as several of my friends were working there and really enjoyed it. What interested me the most about working at the library was being able to learn while I was working by reading a book’s synopsis when it was checked back in, or helping a student find research materials. However, when I submitted my application I was recommended to Special Collections and University Archives. I hadn’t really known what Special Collections and University Archives was, but after receiving a job offer I was extremely happy that things worked out the way they did. Working as a processing student has been one of my favorite jobs, and the best part is that it hardly seems like work at all. Where else can you read about spiritual communes, hold artifacts from the Hindenburg, and look at drawings by Le Corbusier all while working?

You’ve worked on some pretty interesting and wide-ranging collections during your time here: the Hallet E. Cole collection on Zeppelins and lighter-than-air craft, the papers of science fiction author Kate Wilhelm, and the records of the Rajneesh Legal Services Corporation. Are there others you’d like to highlight?

I can think of three off the top of my head, and they all relate to architecture (sorry!). The collections are the Paul Lester Wiener Papers, Ellis Fuller Lawrence Papers, and Heritage Documentation Programs Records. The Paul Lester Wiener Papers was one of the very first collections I processed, and has beautiful architectural drawings for city planning in South America as well as a few sketches by Le Corbusier. The Ellis Fuller Lawrence Papers collection consists of architectural drawings of many buildings on campus, watercolor renderings that put my feeble attempts at painting to shame, and some original stories by Lawrence himself. Lastly, the Heritage Documentation Programs Records consists of Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) and Historic American Engineering Records (HAER) documentation of significant architectural and engineering projects throughout the state of Oregon. This last project is really fun to thumb through as it has some really unique projects in it. For example, did you know that there is a massive over-the-horizon antenna array in Eastern Oregon and Maine?

What are you working on right now?

I actually just finished my most recent project, the Kate Wilhelm papers, and am about to start processing the War Time Posters collection. I’m really excited to work on this project since it combines two subject areas that I’m passionate about: art and the World Wars. For the project I’ll be determining how to better preserve the posters, researching the origin of each poster, and then creating an inventory of the collection. Hopefully once I finish anyone will be able to easily access the collection and learn more about the propaganda efforts made during various wars!

Which collection have you most enjoyed working with? What were some of the coolest things you found in the collections you’ve worked with?

With collections such as the Rajneesh Legal Services Records and Hallett E. Cole Lighter-Than-Air Craft collections it can be hard to pick my favorite to work with, but if I had to pick a single collection it would be the Ellis Fuller Lawrence papers. Lawrence is the co-founding dean of the University’s School of Architecture & Allied Arts, as well as the architect for many notable buildings on campus. As an architecture student it was fascinating going through Lawrence’s plans and drawings for campus buildings such as Knight Library, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, and Gerlinger Hall, and seeing his various plans for what the campus would look like. If you stop by the lobby of Lawrence Hall on campus, you can see a scale model of one of these plans (with a toy dinosaur strolling through Memorial Quad).

There are two parts of the collection that I think are particularly noteworthy: the watercolor renderings and Lawrence’s writings. While the watercolor renderings in the collection were typically not created by Lawrence himself, they do offer a look into his vision for the building as well as a glimpse at fashion trends at the time. As for his writings, Lawrence wrote stories later in his life. Many of his original manuscripts are a part of the collection and often have correspondence from publishers included with them. While none of these stories were published, I personally thought they were a fun read.

What have been some of the challenges of working in Special Collections and University Archives? What have you liked best about working in Special Collections and University Archives?

The two biggest challenges of working in Special Collections and University Archives is the delicacy required to process some collections and the tediousness of processing others. Several of the collections I’ve worked on required very special care of the materials so no damage was done to them, which can be tough when working with pieces of paper that are more than 100 years old. For collections with a large number of documents (such as correspondence) it can be tedious sorting through the material. However, these challenges haven’t been unenjoyable. Being able to process a collection so it is well-preserved and well-sorted brings me a lot of joy because I know it will help researchers (and the occasional zeppelin enthusiast). I’ve really enjoyed being able to learn new things while I work, so helping make all of these collections more accessible to the public has made it even more enjoyable.

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