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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

New Head of Archives Brings Passion for History to Old Dominion

A self-professed "museum nerd" her entire life, Jessica Ritchie, Old Dominion's new head of special collections and university archives, is hoping to spread the gospel that the University's history is cool.

"This place really is incredible. It tells the story not only of Old Dominion, but going back to the 19th Century in Hampton Roads," Ritchie said, during an interview in the Special Collection and University Archives office on the third floor of Perry Library. "Now, my job is to help everyone find out about it."

Ritchie came to Old Dominion University in January from the Chrysler Museum of Art, where she oversaw the move of the Jean Outland Chrysler Library - the permanent collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art - to the Barry Arts Building at Old Dominion University.

"It's been fantastic," said Ritchie, who previously worked (2010-11) as a supervisor in the University art library. "I love helping tell ODU's story."

In addition to telling the story of Old Dominion University, and before that, the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary, the collections span a mid-20th Century period that saw seismic changes in society, including desegregation, the Cold War and women's rights.

"It's just a really unique gem. Old Dominion and the greater community have been very invested in preserving this history," Ritchie said.

George Fowler, acting head librarian at Old Dominion, said he is "energized" by the passion Ritchie brings to her role.

"Jess has been in her position for slightly over four months, but she has already transformed Special Collections and University Archives; building on the existing strengths while adding significantly to those strengths. The Libraries and ODU are privileged to have Jess with us," he said.

One of the goals Ritchie has for the archives is to make the broader campus aware of the treasures they contain. Faculty and students who have discovered the archives are just as passionate as Ritchie is.

"I had a student come in with a class, and find the files of the Black Student Alliance, which she is a member of herself," she said. "It was a powerful moment for her, seeing how the organization's history goes back decades. It frequently is for people, to see their place in the story."

The University is hiring an archivist for the department whose job it will be to collect, tell and promote ODU's stories. Ritchie said the University's upcoming 85th anniversary is a fantastic opportunity for the Special Collections and University Archives.

"There's a sea change happening with this university, as it grows and expands from its roots as the Norfolk Division to the major university of today. This is unique. This is what makes us special," she said.

The archives have also evolved into a broader historical resource, housing collections from organizations such as the NAACP, as well as local musicians and influential members of the community.

"Basically, if you see a building in the area with a name on it, we probably have their collection," Ritchie said.

Old Dominion's Special Collections and University Archives, the ODU Photograph Collection and oral histories, can be reached through the ODU Libraries Website.

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