November 28, 2017

Kevin Leonard from
Northwestern University

We’re kicking off our Member Spotlight series with an interview of Kevin Leonard, University Archivist at Northwestern University.

Kevin Leonard

Tell us about yourself and your role at Northwestern.

I am the University Archivist at Northwestern University Libraries. If I had to describe my job, I would say that I am responsible for collecting material that I believe has enduring significance and will help support future study at Northwestern and beyond. I make sure resources are properly cared for, arranged, and described, and then made available for public use. Ultimately, the hope is that the materials we collect will help people better understand the world in which we live.

How did you become involved with the work of Chicago Collections?

I became involved back in 2013 when Northwestern joined as a founding member. I became part of the Content Committee, which worked to determine the scope and format of the collections that would be included in the portal. The question we tried to answer was: what does it mean to be a Chicago-focused collection? For instance, if I have documents from a French class that took place at Northwestern, will that somehow be relevant to someone who is researching Chicago history? In that case, the answer is probably not. But documents relating to the founding of the University? Absolutely.

What are some of the things your institution has on EXPLORE?

Northwestern narrowly focused on things that were of obvious interest to Chicago history, such as the Northwestern University Settlement Association, which is an awesome body of material relating to immigration and the history of Polish settlement of Chicago.

We also have collections on individuals such as Leon Forrest and Cyrus Colter, who were both important African American literary figures and professors at Northwestern.

Of course, there are also the Leopold and Loeb and Harold Hulbert collections, which tells the story of a sad and terrible crime from 1924. The story even garnered national media attention in recent years when it was featured on PBS.

What can we look forward to from you institution in the future?

We have a growing body of material pertaining to the performing arts, especially theater, including the papers of costume designer Virgil Johnson and director/writer/actor Frank Galati. In the coming years we’ll be announcing acquisitions relating to other key figures as well.

What are some of the ways you've used EXPLORE in your job, or while interacting with patrons?

When I work with patrons who are beginning their research and are looking for collections in or about Chicago, I tell them about the EXPLORE site, or I take them to my desk and show them. Generally it's students or academics from other institutions. Their reaction is usually that of surprise and delight.

What have you liked about using EXPLORE?

It’s been a key resource for both researchers and librarians to make connections and discover parallel collections at other institutions.


By Lauren McKeen, member of the Chicago Collections Communications Committee and librarian at Northwestern University Libraries