Athens is home to the main campus of the University of Georgia. On it was my favorite Athens attraction, the Special Collections. When I asked Paula in the Athens Welcome Center what to do while there, she said the town’s best attractions were 4 historic homes. Her welcome center is in one of them, but I enjoyed the Special Collections even more. I decided to prioritize it because on the way out I met its director, and she told me that what is on display from all 3 libraries changes every 4 to 6 months. I must have looked a bit disappointed to hear that because I really liked all three. She assured me that what I had seen was all relatively new and would be up until about December. If you don’t get to see what Ruth and I saw, in other words, you will still get to see fine displays.
All three of the Special Collections Libraries are side by side in the Richard B. Russell Building. If it hadn’t been for Paula, we might not have attempted to see them. She gave us a campus map that featured the building and told us how to park free in a nearby campus garage. It’s a rather elaborate parking system that’s definitely worth the effort. The system involved parking on the 3rd level or higher and telling the reception desk attendant our license plate number to get free, unlimited parking.
We began in the Richard B. Russell Library. The facility’s brochure reported that the 3 “Special Collections Libraries are…filled with exhibits of materials from Georgia’s cultural heritage” but outsiders Ruth and I found what was on in each of genuine interest. We began at the comfortable Russell Library’s viewing stations. The staff’s devoted to digitalizing important speeches and interviews from the past that would otherwise be forgotten and making them available for visitor viewing and contemplation. Ruth and I watched a few before seeing the current, temporary exhibit, 1979. Georgian Jimmy Carter was President in that year. I was amazed at the number of important events that occurred in this single year, the Iran hostage situation, an energy crisis, etc. Richard B. Russell was a lifelong public servant who was in the U.S. Senate for 38 years. His specialty was armed services and defense legislation. He loved the Senate and left what he accumulated during his career to this university. This inspired others to do likewise and now this library is home to more than 300 collections. One thing that is permanent is a wonderful mural created by Art Rosenbaum. Jimmy Carter is one of its many subjects.
Next to the Russell is Hargrett Library. It specializes in the Civil War, natural history, and Native Americans, but its current displays are more arts related. I really enjoyed the Charles Coburn stuff. This Academy Award winning character actor for the hilarious movie The More the Merrier was from Georgia and left his estate to this university. The Hargrett’s current but temporary exhibit was “The New South & The New Slavery: Convict Labor in Georgia”. Hargrett was a collector who donated 12,000 books to the University of Georgia. Others, like Georgian Margaret Mitchell who wrote Gone with the Wind followed his example.
The Walter J. Brown Media Archives is in the 3rd library. The Peabody Awards originated in Georgia and this library has the Peabody Awards Collection. On display were Mr. Rogers, the Muppets, etc. Also there was the Jim Steele collection of 250 historic microphones.