Donnelyn Curtis


A lot of locals are aware of the wonderful collection of the Nevada Historical Society in Reno. Fewer know of the treasures in Special Collections and University Archives on the campus of the University of Nevada. Donnelyn Curtis is the director.

What is Special Collections?

Special Collections is a part of the library, and we have a lot of kinds of materials that are not the sorts of things that you would just put out in the regular collection. We collect photographs, papers, books, audio recordings, videos. My job is to publicize the collection and make sure people know what we have, and one way to do that is to have exhibits, such as the upcoming divorce exhibit we are planning.

Tell me about those exhibits.

We need to let people know what we have, and now we can do that not just with exhibits in the building, but online. As a part of our mission, we have exhibits on regional history. We have an organized presentation on a particular topic. An online exhibit provides some context, tells the story of a cultural event or development. People would come to Reno for divorces, and it was in popular culture—just the word Reno meant divorce. It was all over the place—movies, plays, novels. A lot of people have moved here since Nevada was a divorce center, and they may not know that. So we bring an online exhibit that tells the story of Reno and the divorce era so that people can learn about that without having to do a lot of reading. There will be photographs, papers from divorce ranches, articles in magazines, clips from movies, interviews with people who were somehow involved in the divorce industry. We will have all of those things telling a story. But then, digging a little deeper, people will be able to find more information, if they're doing their own research, because we can put a good deal online, including primary materials—documents and ledgers and that kind of thing. They will be able to find out where people lived while they got their divorces—sort of the more detailed type of information. I think we'll probably have every photo in our collection dealing with divorce online. There will be material for people who want more than just a glimpse. It's the same with our sheepherders exhibit. It told the story of the sheep industry in northern Nevada, including the Basque sheepherders. And then we went deeper than that, showing photographs of the trees where the sheepherders carved pictures. Every tree on Peavine has had carvings like that, and they were recorded.

You sort of have two names. What’s the difference between Special Collections and University Archives?

We have a similar mission in that they collect information, primary materials for researchers. University Archives preserves the history of the university and Special Collections preserves the history of the local area, the region. University Archives used to be a special unit but now we’re together. … The history of the university is pretty complete. We’ve pulled it from all the offices.

It sounds like relatively interesting work.

It is. I love it.