Behind the scenes at UIS

Thomas Wood, University archivist


Photographs courtesy of Tiffany Chin

Jessey Bruce , Staff Writer

“I like the size of this campus, it’s not too large. It’s kind of a friendly, manageable sort of place. I also like the variety of collections here,” said Thomas Wood. Wood is a resource of the University of Illinois Springfield that most students do not know about. For the past 30 years, Wood has been the archivist of the university.

Wood declared, “In general, the library has a lot of resources to help them [students] with their school work, their research, and I think a lot of students are not aware of what is available to them, not only books, but databases and other material [including collections of source material].”

Information about the collections is available on the Brookens website, under the Archives tab.

“I think students could be more aware and find a lot of those useful…a good key to them is our website,” Wood said. “We don’t have material that will cover every conceivable subject, but particular subjects we do have material that could be of use to research.”

Wood was born and raised in Mount Carmel, Illinois. On the weekends when he is not working, he likes to read, listen to music, and be outdoors.

“I like to explore and drive to various places along the Illinois River,” he explained.

This being said, Wood enjoys his job and has always had a love for history. Wood explained, “I started in this field, because I was always interested in history, from an early age.”

He graduated from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a history degree. He received his Master’s of History and Library and Information Science.

Wood said it was “sort of natural thing to go into archives, where I handle historical records from various eras, both recent and not so recent.” While he is a fan of history in general, he “really enjoy[s] the old county records, the old local government records, from the 1800s.”

“That’s kind of a period of history that I always enjoy, is 19th-century American history,” Wood explained. “These records are from that period and some of them are just so often fascinating. Local history here in the Springfield area, there’s just so much of it – not just Lincoln, of course that is a big part of it – [but] I think Illinois history is just really fascinating and these records tell us a lot about life back in those times.”

The UIS Archives, located downstairs in Brookens at Brookens 144, inside of the Media Lab, has many items from Wood’s favorite time period. This is due to the Illinois Regional Archives Depository System, also known as IRAD. This system helps archivist, like Wood, manage records of local governments, such as records of birth, certificates of death, marriage certificates, civil court cases, criminal court cases and many other records. However, “most of those date from the 1800s to the early 1900s,” as Wood said.

UIS holds the records for not only Sangamon County, but also 13 surrounding counties, including Macouping and Fayette counties. Wood stated, “We have a variety of different collections, and while in a larger library it may be in three different departments, it’s all one here. We have collections of records of the University: administration files that have long term value, but we also have photographs, student newspapers, audio and video files, video of commencements, special events, and visiting speakers. We also have a big collection of student Master projects and theses.

“Another section we have is an oral history collection,” Wood added. “There was an oral history office here from the 1970s to the 1990s. They collected hundreds of interviews with varies people, like former prisoners of war, farmers, coal miners, Illinois politicians, people from various ethnic groups.”

The latter collections have become digital due to grants received in previous years. Wood said, “A lot of our time, in recent years, has been spent by scanning and digitizing material. Selecting some of it to make it available online, that’s a big part of our job these days.”

While not many students know that UIS has an archive, it is open to students, as Wood called it, “pretty much banker’s hours,” which is  Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Wood is happy to help students. “I enjoy working with the students, graduate assistants, and interns I work with,” he said. “They come and go ever couple of years, so there’s always new people to work with and, hopefully, help educate. I find all of that rewarding.”