In these days of instant access to information online, we sometimes forget that there are whole worlds of information that have never been digitized. Despite the Google library project, most books are available only in libraries and bookstores. And then there are the primary sources—manuscripts, letters, photographs—that a person will only be able to see by going to a library’s special collections department. Such a collection of primary sources provides the basis for the cover story in the February 21 issue of the Illinois Times. The story begins: “The contents of 77 boxes shelved in the special collections department of the Brookens Library at the University of Illinois at Springfield tell a love story, a love story that gave rise to one of the most curious chapters in modern American literature.”
The Handy Writers Colony collection in Special Collections at UIS has been mined by scholars and documentary film makers seeking to learn more about the colony and its most famous resident, James Jones. A documentary about the Handy Colony is to be aired on PBS sometime this year. In the early 1950’s, Jones, the author of From Here to Eternity and other novels, lived and wrote at the colony established by Lowney Handy in Marshall, Illinois. Brookens Library archivist Tom Wood spent several years organizing the 2,000 plus items in the Handy Colony collection to make them more accessible to users. You can learn more about the collection at http://www.uis.edu/archives/handy.html.
The Handy Colony Collection is one of the hidden treasures of the Brookens Library. It is also a reminder that a library is about more than information—go to almost any university library’s special collections and you will find these stories of real people, unfolding on yellowed pieces of paper and fading photographs.