By REBECCA TURNER
On the second floor, filling up a corner office of the library is Special Collections. Inside, filing cabinets and shelves are packed with items, documents, pictures and even a historic urn —and Art Bagley can tell you about all of it.
Art began working at the library in late 1987 after finishing a master’s degree program at FSU in library science. Now, he has a multi-purpose role as a reference, collection development and special collections librarian.
Art, along with his colleagues in Special Collections, has been working to make various parts of the library more accessible to students.
“We just had a big project here in Special Collections with our artwork that we have: paintings, photographs, maps, everything like that,” Art explains. “And they’re all up in storage now in the attic and they’re available for checkout. It’s kind of a clumsy way to work it right now, but eventually all of that material will be in the catalog. So, anybody on campus who wants to decorate their dorm room or their office can browse the artwork on the UT library catalog.”
This project began about a year ago when staff members approached the library director asking to decorate their offices with the artwork. The artwork had previously gone relatively unused and unappreciated by anyone apart from library staff. Art hopes that the project will be in the catalog with thumbnail photos and brief descriptions by summer 2017. However, work on the project was slowed during renovations over the summer, making an exact start date uncertain.
The library was opened in the late 1960s, with it having been previously located in Plant Hall’s Grand Salon for a short time and then in Plant Hall’s Fletcher Lounge beginning in the 1930s. The recent renovations to Macdonald-Kelce library have included all areas of the library apart from Special Collections and the Florida Military Collection, which is located on the first floor, as they were used for storage. Both will likely be renovated next summer.
That is far from the only project the library staffers have recently tackled, however.
“A project that we’re really glad we finally got around to doing is that we sent out to a vendor all of our Minarets, all of our Moroccans, all of our alumni newsletters and all of our faculty/staff newsletters and had them digitized and put into our database,” Art says excitedly.
All of these old issues, some as far back as the early 1930s are available through utopia.ut.edu under the history tab at the bottom of the page. The database is full text searching and updated approximately every three years, but if you are looking for something not yet available there, you can always go talk to Art who is happy to explain and show any and all of UT history.
Art has a compelling past too, but he will often relate something he is talking about back to a UT vignette instead of focusing on himself. He was born in the Buffalo, NY area in 1952. He had two older sisters, Verna and Donna and a younger brother, Kirk. Today, Donna and Kirk both live in Sarasota. Tragically, Art’s oldest sister Verna died in childhood during a 1954 Buffalo school fire when Art was just a toddler. Talking about Verna, Art’s voice softens from it’s normal, emphatic tone and a hint of sadness comes through.
“My mother always told me that after Verna died in the fire that I’d wander around the house like I was looking for her because I couldn’t understand the concept,” Art says.
For the next few years, the family would travel periodically to Sarasota to visit family before his mother decided to make the move permanent to avoid the harsh winters. Art’s father moved down first to secure a business and expand it for a full year before they would join him. Art remembers those first trips fondly.
“On one of those trips I remember stopping in Gettysburg the first evening on the road from Buffalo and I remember we were at some kind of motel and that we were right across the street from the battlefield. In the morning, while we were packing up at about six o’clock, through the fog I saw this real hazy, kind of tall thing,” Art recalls. He later learned it was a monument. “That was my first brush with the Civil War on that trip to Florida.”
After he graduated with his undergraduate degree in communication and a minor in American history from FSU in 1974, he worked for both Governor Bob Graham and Governor Bob Martinez in the communication office.
From there he looked into FSU masters programs and library science sounded particularly interesting. Art says with a chuckle, “I doubly noticed that it was a non-thesis based master’s degree. And I said I like to do research; I like history; I like books, so why don’t I go to library school?”
It was at that time that Art met his wife Maria and they had daughter Chelsea who graduated from UT in 2012 and became a teacher. She has just recently completed her first year teaching at Reddick Elementary in Hillsborough County. After applying twice, Art landed a position at UT, where he now plans to work until retirement.
“A lot of people feel that libraries are nice, relaxing places, but that’s out in your public area where you get to sit on the couch and look through the magazines, look at the artwork and play with the 3D printer nowadays. Behind the scenes at a library, there is pressure,” Art says, speaking quite seriously. In his experience, the pressure is worth it to help staff and students alike. “I like helping people learn how to think logically, understand processes and solve problems.”
Art vividly remembers helping one student when he was “fresh out of library school” who asked him how many inches are in a foot. He says he took a step back and remembered that what he was taught in school – there are no unimportant questions. She needed to know. So, he found a dictionary and showed her a conversion chart. As it turned out, she was an international student from Spain who had grown up using the metric system.
Art concludes the story saying, “That just drove home the importance of a reference librarian and understanding the needs of the patrons.”
Art’s knowledge of UT is really what sets him apart from most other staff members. He is somewhat of the go-to person for UT and local history on campus. He can pull out information on who was here when and what dorms used to look like (many even with old photos stored in his archives). Art seems to enjoy talking about the former students and staff members he finds in his records the most. One such story is that of John “Jack” Brockman who left UT twice to go to war. The first time was for World War II and the second time for the Korean War, coming back to study in between. Shortly after his arrival in Korea, he was captured by the North Koreans and was photographed by a Red Cross representative with other prisoners. That photograph made it out of Korea and into Life Magazine, but Jack never did. He most likely died as a prisoner of war.
Another student went on to become a golf pro in Gettysburg, PA during Eisenhower’s presidency. He got to meet, golf and spend time with Eisenhower and his friends. Of him, Art says with a chuckle, “Hobnob with the mucky-mucks, he did.”
At the top of his favorites to talk about though, is that aforementioned urn. There are two marble urns in Special Collections. One is empty and the other houses the remains of Edward R. Martinez-Ybor, the grandson of the founder of Ybor City.
“He gave UT some money and his wife [the 17 years younger Bergljot Audhild Sanne] figured, ‘Well, if he likes UT that much to give them money, then I’ll give him when he dies,’” Art says, laughing.
He died in 1970 at 87-years-old, was donated and his wife moved away to Ithaca, NY.
“I’ve never heard from any other librarians, at conferences and what-have-you that they have human remains in their library,” Art says, his voice a mix of pride and amusement. “I mean, short of an anthropological library or a museum. A liberal arts university with someone’s remains here? That’s pretty unique.”
These stories only scratch the surface of the unique history that fills Art’s office. With retirement only a few years into the future, Art and Maria plan to road trip and spend their time doing the things they don’t currently have the time to do, such as fishing. Even after retirement however, the intriguing and somewhat strange history of UT will stick with him forever. Art nearly whispers, as if telling a secret, “In Special Collections, we have some pretty rare stuff up here…”