WKU Professor predicts Special Collections may be the future of libraries

Many times, physically touching and seeing history with your very own hands and eyes can be a more effective alternative to simply reading and learning online. Such is the method most preferred by Professor Nancy Richey, Reading Room Coordinator and Visual Resources Librarian for the WKU Department of Library Special Collections.

Special Collections are rare, unique artifacts such as manuscripts, one-of-a-kind diaries, letters, posters, photographs, broadsides (historical posters), auction notices, slave bills, and more.

These special resources are made available digitally, and in other ways.  For example, WKU received a collection of manuscripts and artifacts of WKU alumnus Tim Lee Carter, a Republican member of the United State House of Representatives for the Commonwealth of Kentucky from 1965 until 1981. Over 900 boxes of materials showcasing his early life in Monroe County and as a congressman were collected, and obviously all of these artifacts could not possibly be digitized. Thus, a finding aid was created, and the entire collection can be studied in person, by request, at the Kentucky Building at WKU.

Early inspiration from books and small-town dreams

Growing up in a small Kentucky town as the daughter of a teacher, Professor Richey and her family did not have the means to travel.  Her father inspired her to explore the local library, where she loved to spend hours each day.   “The library was a sacred space for me; it was like going to church.  There were so many wonders to be held there, and I reveled in living my childhood in the wonderful world of books,” she says.

After marrying, choosing to stay home and raise her son, and always dreaming of returning to college, Nancy attended WKU as a non-traditional student, taking just one class.  Because of the support, guidance, and encouragement of the faculty and staff at WKU, she completed her degree, resulting in many doors of opportunity being opened for her.  “I was from such a small town, that my first visit to WKU was intimidating and I was scared…but the staff here are on your side, and they want to see you succeed. I’m so grateful for the inspirational librarians and faculty at WKU who were there to help me.  Because of them, my entire life was changed in ways I never dreamed of,” she says.

A Librarian’s job

One of Professor Richey’s favorite experiences occurred last year during a Close Study on WWI and WWII.  Fascinating rare, historical military artifacts from those wars were displayed for students to see and touch.  Postcards, soldiers’ letters from home, gasmasks, weapons, propaganda materials, photographs, a POW record from an American soldier in Nazi Germany, and much more.  Nancy says “This experience seemed to be a seed bed to get them talking, sharing their own questions, and bringing history to life for them.” The students learned about what the food was like, how much the soldiers missed home and how they were feeling, and even prompted one student to say  “I have my grandpa’s letters from the war…are you interested in them?”  Of course, the answer was a resounding yes!

Nancy says “Librarians don’t teach in a classroom…the students come to us, and it’s a different style of teaching.  A librarian’s job is to get students involved and inspire them to understand the importance and significance of the materials. It’s the best part of my job!”

Click the video above to watch a brief video of the WWI and WWII close Study Collection at The Kentucky Building on the WKU Campus.


A native of Mt. Hermon, Richey has been a faculty member at WKU since July 2008. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky and WKU where she received degrees in Information Science and Southern History. Richey has served on various historical boards, including Janice Holt Giles Society, Morrison Park Camp Meeting Site Restoration Board and the Daughters of the American Revolution, and has authored two local history books in the Images of America book series published by Arcadia Press. Additionally, she has co-authored two books. Mose Rager: Kentucky’s Incomparable Guitar Master with Carlton Jackson and Orphaned No More: Henry Clay Morrison: Kentucky’s Finest Son with Gary Bewley.  At present, she is working on a biography of “Cousin Emmy.” She is responsible for collection development for the Kentucky Library for Genealogy and Local History, and for providing research assistance and library research instruction to individuals and classes; and actively seeks materials to continue to build the unique image collections of the Department.


Professor Richey was fortunate to receive several grants:

The National Endowment for Humanities grant in the Summer Scholar program in 2011, a week-long program giving participants direct experiences in the interpretation of significant historical and cultural sites and the use of archival and other primary evidence.

Two NEH scholarships to attend the Campbell Center for Preservation Studies in 2013 – 2014.

Two Research & Creative Activities Program (RCAP) grants for studying Mose Rager and “Cousin Emmy”, Cynthia Mae Carver.

Professor Nancy Richey

Learn more about Special Collections

Everyone is invited to explore the magnificent treasures contained in WKU’s Special Collections.  The list of catalogued materials can be found here


and here:


Tools for WKU faculty and staff

As a service to her fellow professors, Professor Richey invites them to explore creating hands-on, object-based learning opportunities by incorporating the Kentucky Museum and Department of Library Special Collections and its holdings into their curriculum.  It is filled with fascinating collections and exhibits that can be used to teach students about observational skills, visual communication, multicultural perspectives, and more.  To learn more contact Education Curator, Dr. Christy Spurlock at Christy.spurlock@wku.edu or Nancy at nancy.richey@wku.edu.

Archival photo showcasing workers in the strawberry industry, which was once very popular in Kentucky, ca. 1910.


Photograph of Bowling Green, Kentucky native Ernest Hogan, considered by some as the father of Ragtime.


A WWI postcard from 1918 featuring a son with a small inset photo of his mother.  He is lonesome for home.


A very rare WW1 poster with Woodrow Wilson.


Archival boxes in Special Collections at WKU that preserve the collections in a safe environment for future researchers.

Click here to see a list of Professors utilizing the collections:


Click here to listen to an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Company’s National Radio program “Into the Music.”  Professor Richey was a panelist on the program discussing four historically important Kentucky women musicians.  She concentrated on “Cousin Emmy” and her groundbreaking determination to write music, perform, and manage her own career in the early 1930’s.