Keeping tabs on SIUE From Lincoln letter to MRF, archivist has it all

Belleville News-DemocratAugust 11, 2013 

You might say Steve Kerber is the "crypt keeper" at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

He maintains more than 50 years of school records, from Board of Trustees minutes to photos of rock stars at the Mississippi River Festival.

"I used to get a lot of individual inquiries from people about (MRF)," said Steve, whose official title is SIUE archivist and special collections librarian.

"That's why we wrote the book (on MRF) and developed a website ( It was just a more efficient way of addressing the inquiries."

Steve also is responsible for plans, correspondence, manuscripts and other documents donated to the archives for safekeeping.

One of his favorite collections came from the Flagg family of farmers. Diaries provide rich descriptions of local life in the early 1900s.

Steve also has received files from the estates of Illinois Sen. Sam Vadalabene, legendary Edwardsville basketball coach Joe Lucco, Lewis and Clark experts George Arnold and Donald Hastings, East St. Louis mayor Alvin Fields, journalist and historian Carl Baldwin and labor leader Harold Gibbons.

"I have a professor from the University of Oregon who has come here seven or eight times to do research (on Gibbons)," Steve said. "He writes about labor history."

Steve accepts almost anything related to significant people, places or activities in the region, unless it is so full of mold and mildew that it would endanger other holdings.

His stamping grounds are the Lovejoy Library basement and a storage building across campus.

"We probably have something in the neighborhood of 12,000 linear feet," Steve said. "Each shelf is 3 feet wide, so 12,000 feet would be 4,000 shelves of (boxes)."

Steve, who holds a doctorate in U.S. history, has been working at SIUE since 1995. Today, much of his attention is focused on converting materials into digital form to provide greater public access.

What does Steve consider the single most important piece of paper in his stacks? A legal document hand-written by Abraham Lincoln in 1838.

The document is related to an civil suit for $1,500 in damages. Researchers found it at the Madison County Courthouse in the early 1990s.

"Lincoln was an attorney on a circuit that followed the court (from town to town)," Steve said. "So he didn't have a secretary or office manager."

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