Take a trip through time in the McConnell Library

There is a room in McConnell Library that will take you anywhere you want to go. You just have to pick the itinerary.

Maybe you will visit a 13th century monastery to pore over the beautiful illumination of its medieval tomes. Or you could walk the streets of 1960's Chicago, at the height of the Black Arts Movement, hearing bold, new artistic voices proclaim their arrival. To cap it all off, how about a visit to an underground concert and tape swap, right here in Appalachia?

All of these journeys are possible in the Archives Reading Room, the home of the library's Archives and Special Collections department, which cultivates collections that bring some of the world's small wonders to the Radford University campus.

"Archives and Special Collections strive to engage students with opportunities to explore unique and original resources," said Archivist Christopher Miller. "Those materials may be several hundred years old, but they could just as easily be something new and obscure. The challenge is to select resources that will be an inspiration to the creative impulses of our campus community. One of the most rewarding aspects of these kinds of collections emerges when they become regenerative, leading to new knowledge, creative works, or something we haven't yet imagined."

The archives workers haven't really cracked the secret to time travel, but each collection in the archives tells its own story.

A simple appointment is all that's needed to see one of Radford University's three medieval manuscripts, one each from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Although they are by far the oldest items in the collection, they provide a direct link to the past when knowledge was safeguarded and sequestered away, quite unlike today's "on-demand" world.

The 344 volumes of poetry and prose of the Black Arts Movement Collection do more than tell stories. They catalogue an explosion of art in the black community during the turbulent 1960s that has influenced artists of all backgrounds to this day.

For those about to rock, the Regional Underground Music Collection is home to more than 100 cassettes and vinyl records of music that you can't find on the radio or Spotify. From challenging noise experiments to straight-ahead garage band bliss, the music will live on in the collection as proof for underground musicians that they were there.

Perhaps the most stunning addition is Visionaire, a mixed-media periodical. Almost impossible to define, Visioniare "issues" can take any form. One issue now in the archives is a Mini Cooper-sponsored record collection with music from artists like U2, David Byrne, Courtney Love and Andrew W.K., complete with a pint-sized Mini Cooper that drives itself around the record, playing the tunes with a hidden needle.

"Calling Visionaire a fashion magazine is like calling a Lamborghini 'just' a car," said James Harman, a graphic designer with the Office of University Relations. "It explodes preconceptions of what a fashion magazine is. Each issue has a radically different format, uses different materials, including or not including paper, and appeals to senses beyond sight and touch to encompass scent, sound and even taste. One issue is wearable."

A copy of that wearable issue – comprised of polo shirts with original art prints – now resides at Radford. Of course, the archives draw the line at letting visitors actually put the shirts on. Still, Visionaire is something to see and McConnell Library has the most complete set of these award-winning, multi-format design publications in Virginia.

Archives and Special Collections acquires a wide range of material in order to give the Radford University community opportunities for real, tactile experiences with the world around them. These experiences can also be found online, however, in the archives digital repository.

The archives also take care to catalog the history of Radford and its surrounding region. Digital collections about regional folk traditions, the history of the coal industry and Appalachian art provide an invaluable glimpse into the past.

"When student researchers have access to original primary sources, the veils of time are lifted as they are confronted by the unvarnished truth of the creator's life and times," said Dean of McConnell Library Steve Helm. "This intimate knowledge of the past helps inform us of how to create an even better future."

The incredible experiences offered in the archives are also protected as many of the materials are quite delicate, or, in some case, one of a kind. There will be some ground rules about any visit, but those are to ensure everyone can enjoy these materials.

"The archives promotes a sense of identity and community through preservation of and access to primary sources," Helm said.

To that end, the library opened the Archives Reading Room in 2014 as a way to make it easier to access these materials. Now members of the Radford Community can contact the library and make an appointment to visit.

The Archives and Special Collections team will have the time machine ready when they get there.

Jul 7, 2015