McConnell Library Archives and Special Collections opens new Reading Room


Some of the coal mining photos now in the University's Archive, including several glass plate negatives.

The fifth floor of McConnell Library, normally reserved for silent study, was filled with old time mountain music for a special celebration on April 17.

Archives and Special Collections held the celebration in honor of the grand opening of its new Reading Room, a new space for scholarship and learning, now open for business on the Radford University campus.

"With the opening of the Archives Reading Room, McConnell Library is enhancing the ability of our Archives and Special Collections Department to offer first-rate public service and access to the library’s most rare and unique holdings," said Archivist Christopher Miller before the event.

While visitors to the new space examined artifacts and memorabilia form Radford's history, a bluegrass quintet of RU faculty members performed high-energy Appalachian tunes for attendees.


Participants in the Archive Room Dedication take part in getting a panoramic photo taken as part of the celebration.

The reason for the picking and plucking was the acquisition of the George and Melody Bragg New River Coal Fields Photographic Collections, which will significantly expand existent archival holdings that uniquely contextualize the coal mining experience in Appalachia from the perspective of the labor force, Miller said.

Archives and Special Collections already hold a wealth of materials outlining Appalachian history.

The Bragg collections feature the photographs of W.O. Trevey, R.E. Ribble and W.W. Vail, three men who dedicated their lives to capturing the experience of the Appalachian coal miner in the 19th and 20th centuries.


George Bragg discusses how he and his wife came to have the The George & Melody Bragg New River Coal Fields Photographic Collections that are now part of the University Archives.

Bragg, a professional photographer and former coal miner, offered remarks about the collections, telling the story of how it grew by chance. Lucky finds and careful attention helped grow the collections to over thousands of images, negatives and glass plate slides. Bragg and his wife, Melody, have been seeking a home for the collections for some time.

"I think I have found the right home for them here at Radford University," Bragg said.

Radford University Archives and Special Collections supports the teaching, research and public service missions of McConnell Library by collecting, preserving, organizing and making accessible materials that document the history of Radford University, Southwest Virginia and Appalachia.

Improvements like the reading room and additions like the Bragg collections further that mission.

"This has all been a long time in the making," said Dean of McConnell Library Steve Helm. "We have been working to bring the archives to a whole new level. It's all coming together beautifully."

The reading area is open for research without an appointment on Mondays from 3-7 p.m. and other times by appointment. For information or to arrange an appointment to visit the Archives, please contact

Apr 23, 2014