Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Stallings Collection

On a cold November morning in 2005, I was doing door-to-door campaigning with former Congressman Richard Stallings as he was running for reelection to the Pocatello City Council and being the historians that we are our conversation turned to my research projects. I expressed my dismay with the research materials available to me and as if it were not a monumentally important matter, Stallings replied, "Did you know my papers are at Idaho State?"

That cold November morning changed my academic life forever and has the potential of influencing the academic careers and research interests of many Idaho State University students as well as historians statewide.

My involvement with the final processing of the Stallings Collection, a collection of 266 boxes donated to Idaho State University's department of Special Collections in 1992 following Stallings' unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate, did not begin as a project to completely process and prepare the collection for researchers. In fact, my first experience was one of frustration as I attempted to write a research paper using the papers as a primary source in determining the importance of Stallings' position on abortion in the 1992 campaign. I was mislead. I had assumed that in a collection of this size there would be polling data. After leafing through all 266 boxes I realized that assumption was false. In leafing through those boxes I developed a broader sense of who Richard Stallings is to Idaho and how unique his political successes were in a state deepening in its shade of red.

After one long semester of wading through papers with no order or organization, I heard about an internship program at ISU sponsored by the President's office. The presidential internship program offered undergraduate students the opportunity to take on large administrative projects overseen by the President's office and administrative units within the University. Eight students are awarded these internships each year and I have been privileged enough to be one of those presidential interns for the past two years. I originally pitched the idea of completing the preliminary inventory that began in the late 90s by a member of the library's staff under the direction of an archivist who was killed in a automobile accident. Clearly, the disconnect between what was originally planned for the collection would make my attempt at completing an already started inventory challenging.

My job description quickly morphed into that of sole processor of the Stallings Collection, an undergraduate responsible for the complete processing, indexing, and arrangement of the papers from Congressman Stallings' time in Congress for the presentation and opening for research in January of 2008. As inadequate as I originally felt, the historian in me knew that the materials contained within those 266 boxes would be an invaluable resource for historians, political scientists, and I was determined to ensure that the collection met its potential through a systematic processing of every single item within those boxes.

Without getting too wonky, the procedure for this massive project included a complete revision of the partial preliminary inventory that existed (an inventory that is approaching 200,000 words), the creation of a searchable index with a series of subject terms for each folder and box as well as identifying dates, insertion of acid-free folders labeled to reflect folder titles/topics, the subject terms identified in the index, and the date range for the materials within each folder.

The Stallings Collection contains a wide-array of primary sources specific to agricultural issues (the 1985 & 1990 Farm Bills, creation of Farmer Mac, the farm debt crisis of the 1980s), energy related issues (hydropower projects, funding of and activities of the Idaho National Laboratory), Idaho politics & politicians, nuclear waste (Stallings' donated his papers from his time as U.S. Nuclear Waste Negotiator in 2006), constituent service files, correspondence, and various other legislative issues.

Without question, the procedure chosen for the processing of this collection will ensure its place as the premier political manuscript collection in Idaho. The collection highlights the research mission of Idaho State University.

In a reception hosted by Dr. Arthur Vailas, President of Idaho State University, the Stallings Collection was officially opened for research and Congressman Stallings was honored for his service to this state and finally acknowledged for a donation that took place fifteen years ago.

The reception was a beautiful reunion of Stallings and his staffers, one who traveled from Maryland for the event, and a wonderful reminder of what is possible in Idaho, a state that once held both U.S. congressional seats (by Larry LaRocco, who was in attendance, and Stallings from 1990-1992). Keith Roark, chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, introduced Congressman Stallings who shared his appreciation for the crowd's acknowledgment of his public service, shared stories about each of his staffers in attendance, and his family (wife Ranae, daughter Sallianne, and son Rick were also in attendance).

My appreciation for the opportunity and honor of being responsible for the completion of this collection is as immeasurable as my respect and admiration for Richard Stallings. I now know how he voted on every issue, when he sided with his Republican colleagues, when his principles came before his party, and why Idaho elected this man to four terms in Congress. This journey has been a challenge to my intellect as well as my health. The historian in me went to battle with archival practices. The Democrat in me faced the disappointment of some of Stallings' more conservative positions. As a student, I struggled through many semesters of juggling this project and my coursework. Despite the challenge and the cost, the outcome far exceeded my expectations of what could happen with 266 boxes of paper.

I will forever be in the debt of Richard Stallings for the opportunity of a lifetime. As I stood at the reception listening to him speak Friday night, I looked around and saw the president of the university, the dean of the graduate school, faculty members, library staff, historians, mentors, and friends. As I stood at the reception I realized that the completion of the Stallings Collection is the greatest accomplishment of my life thus far and will forever be something I am immensely proud of.

For more information on the Stallings Collection at Idaho State University please visit the News & Notes page for this week, the Department of Special Collections homepage with an outline of the collection, or the Biographical Directory of Congress entry for Congressman Stallings.


slfisher said...

Congratulations, Tara.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Thanks, Sharon.

IdahoRocks said...

As a rare book collector and seller, I appreciate the tremendous amount of time, thought, and energy put into your task. You have performed a very great service and deserve every bit of praise and thanks that comes your way. Good job, Tara! That was a LOT of work.