After Forty Years of Service, Special Collections and Archives Department Head Kathryn DeGraff Retires From DePaul

Kathryn DeGraffKathryn DeGraff retired in August after 40 years of service to the DePaul University Library. In a career dedicated to DePaul, Kathryn began work in Library Acquisitions, became the founding Head of what is now the DePaul University Special Collections and Archives, and was named the University’s first University Archivist. Inheriting a collection of materials donated or acquired over time by Library Directors, interested faculty, Vincentian scholars, and members of DePauls Board of Trustees, Kathryn established a coherent collections program that is now distinguished by strengths in Vincentian Studies, Social Justice Studies, and the history of the City of Chicago. As importantly for the University, Kathryn established a robust collection of University records and publications beginning with her appointment as University Archivist in 1982 that was key to the celebration of the DePaul University Centennial in 1998, and is now an essential component of the University’s records management system.

Kathryn’s dedication to DePaul’s teaching mission can be seen in the growth and development of the Library’s efforts to integrate the use of rare books and special collections into classroom instruction. She recalls how in 1984, a solitary class participated in the instruction program featuring materials from Special Collections, but leaves the University at a time when 50-60 classes routinely visit Special Collections and Archives in an academic year. Kathryn sees the growth of the instruction program as one of her greatest contributions during her long career.

In addition to expanding Special Collections & Archives’ instruction program, Kathryn focused much of her energy on growing manuscript collections, including the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Collection, the Latino Institute papers, faculty collections, and the unanticipated deposit of the papers of Fr. James Brockman on Archbishop Oscar Romero. The latter gave Special Collections the start on what is now a growing group of social justice collections. These social justice collections now include the Berrigan papers (covering anti-war movements in the 1960s and 1970s), and the papers of Sr. Helen Prejean (documenting the history of anti-death penalty activism).

Growing the social justice collections has not only put DePaul’s Special Collections on the map, but also has been particularly meaningful to DeGraff.  “I’m a child of the 60s, so meeting Cha Cha Jiminez from the Young Lords and Daniel Berrigan were great opportunities for me a rebel who became part of the establishment to reconnect with some old roots.” Watching students connect with the material has also been meaningful to DeGraff:  “Seeing students get really excited about old books and personal papers has been really important to me. I recall one who was reading a trial diary, but felt she had to stop because she felt she was prying too closely into someones life.”

Morgen MacIntosh Hodgetts has been named Acting Head of Special Collections and Archives while the Library conducts a search for Kathryn’s successor.  On the future of the department, Kathryn notes: “I feel good about this transition given the wonderful staff we have in place.”  As for her own plans for retirement, DeGraff is excited: Now instead of trying to document history I intend to read it.

A reception honoring the career of Kathryn DeGraff will be held in September 2012.

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