Seidman House changes to fit campus needs

By Kara Haight | 10/21/12 5:37pm


GVL / Amy Hammond

Ricardo Benavidez of the Seidman House

by Amy Hammond / Grand Valley Lanthorn

You pass it on your way to class, and you may have even heard the name, but how much do you really know about Grand Valley State University’s Seidman House? Many students are aware that it’s a tranquil place to study, with the ravines just outside the window and a fireplace crackling inside, but the building serves other purposes.

Along with comfortable study areas, the Seidman House stores the University Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives, including a collection of about 50,000 rare books, said Robert Beasecker, director of Special Collections at GVSU.

“(We have) an extensive Abraham Lincoln and Civil War collection, (and) books printed in the late 1400s, shortly after the invention of printing by Gutenberg,” Beasecker said.

Also within the collection are first editions of books by authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. It also contains a collection of novels with Michigan settings and some about the history of Grand Rapids.

All of the items within the GVSU Special Collections can be used by any staff, faculty or student of GVSU for course-related or person interest, Beasecker said.

But Seidman House didn’t begin as a study space or a storage area for GVSU’s book collection. When the building was constructed in 1965, it was only the third building on Allendale’s campus and was intended to be used as a student center, Beasecker said.

“It was called the Collegiate Center at the time it was built,” said Nancy Richard, the University Archivist for GVSU.

During that time, the building functioned much like the current Kirkhof Center.

“It had gallery space and a faculty dining room, and the college bookstore was located on the lower level,” Beasecker said.

As GVSU continued to grow, Seidman House became home to the Admissions, Registrar and Financial Aid departments, and “with the addition of the Student Services Building in 1995, Seidman House was remodeled for the Libraries’ Special Collections and University Archives,” Beasecker said.

The building is set to undergo another round of temporary changes to house administration offices that are currently within the Zumberge library, Beasecker added.

“In May, Seidman House will see temporary remodeling to accommodate displaced (offices) from Zumberge Library while that building undergoes remodeling and repurposing,” Beasecker said.

The offices will return to Zumberge once the renovations are complete, and the building will resume its current function.

Along with its collection of distinguished items and beautiful views, the building also employs student workers on its staff.

“The students who come to work here are generally history majors or interested in becoming archivists,” Richard said.

Student employees work on a range of different projects, from scanning originals into the collections database and organizing GVSU’s records to answering reference questions.

Ricardo Benavidez, a senior majoring in history and public and nonprofit administration, is currently working at the Seidman House to fulfill his internship requirement. Benavidez said he decided to step into the area of public history.

“The archives is just one aspect of public history,” Benavidez said. “Nancy and Robert have helped me hone my skills and really understand the processes of running and maintaining archives and special collections.”

GVSU’s digital collections website features artifacts from the Special Collections and University Archives, ranging from past GVSU photographs to a civil war and slavery collection, with many other unique selections for students to explore.

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