University congressional archives brimming with opportunities for research

Legislative papers, speech transcripts, constituent gifts, photos, campaign files, appointment records, personal notes, videotapes — these are just some of the elements of the congressional archive collections housed at Willamette University's Mark O. Hatfield Library.

The seven collections — featuring items from three U.S. senators and four U.S. representatives, four of whom are Willamette alumni — provide an inside perspective on negotiations at the state and national level, while highlighting paper trails through history that have started to disappear with the advent of modern technology.

Shanel Parette '08, library circulation supervisor, recently curated an exhibit of artifacts from the collections to bring more attention to the bountiful opportunities for research that they offer. The exhibit can be viewed in the glass cases on the north side of the library's second floor.

"There is a wealth of material just waiting to be used," archivist Rose Marie Walter says. "Even if it is just a starting place to build from."

The archives house the collections of U.S. Representatives Darlene Hooley, Michael Kopetski, Dennis "Denny" Smith '60 and Robert "Bob" Smith '53; and of U.S. Senators Mark Hatfield '43, Bob Packwood '54 and Gordon Smith.  

The library's exhibit features items from all the collections, although only those of the four U.S. representatives are currently open to the public.

"The impetus for the display is to let people know that the collections are here, and that four are open for public use," says Mary McKay, university archivist. "It also helps people understand what their congressional members are doing on their behalf."

Willamette students may wish to use Hooley's collection to research local initiatives such as Portland's light rail project or Oregon's Death with Dignity Act. Or delve into Kopetski's collection to study how the prevention of deforestation near Mt. Hood was achieved with the creation of the Opal Creek Forest Reserve.

Many of the congresspeople, the archivists say, focused on environmental issues, as so many students at Willamette. Indeed, the collections have no shortage of prospective areas of study — several of them are quite large and some have not even been sorted yet by the archives staff. looking through the collections and documenting what it's in them will take years, McKay says.

"It is sort of like excavating," she says.

The papers in the collections are of course the main attraction, but the personal items can also help researchers to better understand their subjects. The collections on display feature an array of these items — for example, Hooley's Nike running shoes and a book of elementary students' letters to Kopetski.

The archivists have created an inventory guide for the open collections in order to assist in the research process. There is also an online version of these inventories. The guide highlights specific areas of interest, allowing users to pick and choose which papers to view.

"We tried to focus on things Willamette students and faculty would be interested in," Walter says. "We're doing whatever we can to make research easier."

To access the collections, visit the Hatfield Library — either the circulation desk or the archives office — and fill out a registration form. The archivists suggest setting aside at least an hour, as the materials may not be checked out. The archives hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m.