The Sowell Collection: Then and Now

AJarticle2000 (2) The article that appeared in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal on Dec. 17, 2000 was not news to me.  I worked at TTU Libraries and I’d already heard of this fantastic new collection–and as a librarian, poet, literary scholar, I wanted to be a part of it.

AJarticle2000 (3)I knew the names and work of two of the writers in the this new collection, Barry Lopez and Pattiann Rogers.  I’d read River Notes, an early Lopez book, and I identified him with the Northwest, my home country.  Pattiann Rogers.  Well, even in 2000, 15 years ago, I considered Pattiann Rogers to be one of the greatest American poets.  I really wanted to work with this collection.  I considered myself fortunate when a professional position opened up in the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.   I was the successful applicant, I came to the SWC/SCL in Feb. 2001, and I’ve been happily working with and in the Sowell Collection ever since.

My first office area was an eclectic congregation of cast-off furniture and dusty wall dividers.  Sort of like those “forts” of chairs and tables we constructed as children. The boxes and boxes involved in manuscript processing sorely strained the boundaries of my area.  I was a solitary worker, with one student assistant in for a few hours a week to pull staples and remove paper clips.  I did most of the processing myself, music in the background keeping me entertained; I’m not complaining, I actually enjoyed the zen of processing, the mindfulness required.  I liked immersing myself into each new collection, learning its treasures and quirks.  I prided myself, still do, on having a very quick turn-around time between the arrival of the collection and its availability to researchers.  Making the treasures available to researchers, that’s always the goal.  Still, working as a solitary processor and a battalion of student assistants, it took me three years to finish processing the Gretel Ehrlich papers.  Now, a collection that large can be completed in about 12 months.

McKibben_boxes (2)

The Bill McKibben collection, in my previous office.

The Sowell Collection has grown, from four writers to over twenty.  We are in contact with writers and agents with the aim of acquiring three new and extremely interesting collections.  Can’t wait to announce these!  We have new offices, with windows and plenty of room for boxes and boxes.  Especially important, several years ago, I was able to hire a full-time assistant.  Sara Roberts held the position until this past summer, when she moved to Lincoln, Nebraska.  Kristin Loyd joined the staff in August.  In their different ways, they have both been perfect for this work and this collection.  Right now, we have three student assistants.  A mighty workforce processing some additional papers from Doug and Andrea Peacock and a new collection from Orion.

The adventure of the day: a box of books arrived, donated by Barry Lopez.  Can’t wait to open it!

For another, more complete, telling of the history of the Sowell Collection, please see this essay by Kurt Caswell (TTU Honors College) that appeared in Isle, Spring 2015:




About Diane Warner

I'm the Librarian for the James Sowell Family Collection in Literature, Community and the Natural World at Texas Tech University. That means I do all sorts of things, from arranging manuscripts to writing news releases or curating exhibits for our new collections.
This entry was posted in Andrea Peacock, Barry Lopez, Bill McKibben, David Quammen, Doug Peacock, Orion, Pattiann Rogers, William Kittredge and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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