October 22, 2021

Adam Strohm from Illinois Institute of Technology

Adam Strohm, Director, University Archives and Special Collections at Paul V. Galvin Library, Illinois Institute of Technology

This sixth installment of CCC's Member Spotlight series features an interview with Illinois Institute of Technology Director of University Archives and Special Collections Adam Strohm.

Tell us about yourself and your role at Illinois Institute of Technology

I am the Director of University Archives and Special Collections at Illinois Tech’s Paul V. Galvin Library. My unit’s mission is to engage local and global communities in exploring the impact of Illinois Institute of Technology and the experience of all those who are part of the university’s legacy. As part of my role within my unit and the library as a whole, I serve on our Digital Initiative  Group and play a principal role in the development and management of the library’s digitization efforts, digital collections, and digital exhibitions, most of which consist largely of materials from University Archives and Special Collections’ holdings. 

How did you become involved in the work of Chicago Collections?

When I worked at the Newberry Library, I was recruited to be the Newberry’s representative on what was then known as the Chicago Collections Portal Committee. I met Tracy Seneca from the University of Illinois at Chicago, then the committee chair, to discuss the project, and did a few xtf tutorials to try to get myself up to speed on the technology that was to be the backbone of the portal. I joined the committee at a really exciting time, and leapt immediately into helping to build the EXPLORE portal from the ground up. It was a lot of work, but the committee was (and remains) such a great group that even daylong retreats to comb through the site line by line were something I looked forward to.

What are some of the interesting things your institution has on EXPLORE?

At this point, Illinois Tech’s contributions to EXPLORE are primarily archival finding aids, with more digital images on the way. 

Our Institute of Design collections are probably our most frequently consulted collections, detailing the design school from the time of its founding in 1937 by László Moholy-Nagy, to its joining with Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949, to its existence as a forward-looking institution in the twenty-first century. Over six decades of ID history are represented in the collections, including many boxes of student work, which is a great insight into the work being done at ID through many permutations of curriculum and faculty. The earliest collection (Institute of Design Records, 1937-ca. 1955) includes some really wonderful textual and photographic documentation of the early years of the program and includes a scrapbook that, according to legend, may have been compiled by Moholy-Nagy himself. 

Our collection of the papers of Marvin Camras documents the fascinating career of a man who played a pivotal role in the development of magnetic recording, first as a pioneer in wire recording, then, as our finding aid notes, “Camras invented and developed such technologies as multi-track tape recording, magnetic sound for motion pictures, videotape recorders, as well as the technique of high-frequency bias recording; together these innovations presently contribute to a $30 billion industry.” Cameras donated his papers in 1987, and in addition to lab notes, correspondence, and other paper-based materials, we have a collection of Camras’ equipment from over the years, including commercial models of some of the wire recorders he developed and prototypes from his early experiments in magnetic recording and playback. 

What have you liked about EXPLORE?

To me, the best thing about EXPLORE has been the people that it’s introduced me to, and the engaging and enriching opportunities it has provided for meaningful collaboration. Chicago is, of course, full of great librarians, archivists and other cultural heritage professionals, and I think Chicago Collections, and EXPLORE specifically, can model how we can all work together in a way that respects the uniqueness of individual institutions and their collections while also presenting a cohesive and user-friendly service to our users. I’m still a member of the Discovery Systems Committee, and I’m really proud of our team and the work we’ve done. My work with EXPLORE and Chicago Collections introduced me to people I consider friends as much as colleagues, and my experience with EXPLORE enhances the work I do on a daily basis in any number of ways. 

What is the best part of your job?

The best part of my job is undoubtedly the people that I work with and have worked with over my time at Galvin Library. There’s a collaborative, can-do atmosphere that I find inspiring and fulfilling to be a part of, and our library has always been one in which there’s a freedom to try out new ideas, experiment, and gets one’s hands dirty, as it were, in the service of spurring innovation, finding improvement, or just plain doing something interesting. I’ve learned a lot from my colleagues, and I’m a better librarian because of them. I really value the opportunities I’ve had to learn new things, take chances, and do cool things with their help and support. 

Tell us about a Chicagoan represented in your collections who people may not be familiar with.

Frank Wakeley Gunsaulus is best known at Illinois Tech for delivering the “Million Dollar Sermon” that spurred Phillip D. Armour to make the donation that was the beginning of the Armour Institute of Technology (now Illinois Tech). Gunsaulus  was the Armour Institute’s first president, and looms large in the early years of the university’s history, and his name remains on Gunsaulus Hall, a dormitory opened in 1950 on the eastern edge of the Illinois Tech campus. Gunsaulus may not be well-remembered by those outside of the Illinois Tech community, but he was a prominent citizen of Chicago in his day, active in social and civic causes, especially those relating to education. Gunsaulus was also an author and a collector of art and literature, and his name adorns halls in both the Art Institute and Field Museum. We have collections of Gunsaulus’ papers, including correspondence and manuscript material related to his writing and research, though the text of the “Million Dollar Sermon” is unfortunately not included in our holdings, and, so far as we know, no transcript of the sermon has survived.