Finding a guy who loves his job is just as easy as finding a needle in a haystack. So it’s perfect coincidence that Bob Schmidt works in the Miami University Archives, tucked away in the back corner of Withrow Court.
Bob lives in the past everyday. He is the gatekeeper of Miami University’s history. His office inside Withrow is in a sector of the building that must remain cooled 65 to 70 degrees precisely —with 40 percent humidity — to preserve materials inside. Before Bob, faculty members managed the archives. Bob is the first ever full-time archivist at Miami.
The archives are considered a long-term storage unit for articles with permanent historic value, according to Bob. Inside, shelves are tightly stacked with cardboard filing boxes, each filled with a sliver of history. Newspaper clippings, letters, floor plans, photos, reels of old film and other materials are tucked neatly inside manila folders inside each box.
One box labeled ‘Fisher Hall’ contains old floor plans, newspaper clippings from the aftermath of a missing student from 1953 who lived in the residence hall, the demolition of the hall and the mysteries surrounding. An entire row of boxes contain game film from old Miami football games and tapes the team watched in the locker room. Bob saves old technology to watch reel-to-reel films or for cassette tapes or records. A door propped against one of the walls was preserved after a murder in Reid Hall. The door allegedly has blood stains from that night.
Not only archival material is within the corner of the building, though. The university secretary’s office stores records in the Records Retention sector that includes old student records, accounts payable documents, bank statements and other confidential information. The space inside Withrow is not bottomless, and Bob ultimately has to make decisions about some documents on whether or not he will hold on to them, or let them go, which becomes a challenge.
“Anything could have historic value,” Bob said.
While some archival materials are available online, only a limited number of boxes have been uploaded to the web. Eventually everything will be digital, but it will take years even after he is gone.
Bob says he sees life as linear without history, which is why he is so passionate about his work in the archives.
“I live in the past,” Bob said. “The past is my business. Life would be one-dimensional without the history – at least I think so – I often become obsessive with it. It’s not just paper – it’s people that are back there.”
Bob is a Cincinnati native who now lives in Oxford with his family. Bob met his wife, Cathy, during college at University of Cincinnati. They have been married for 33 years. While at UC, Bob said his advisor brought champagne to class to celebrate the impending nuptials.
“That was before the drinking age changed,” Bob said.
Bob and Cathy have three children, all of which will be Miami alumni. The eldest son graduated in spring 2010 with a degree in history, like his Dad (Bob received his doctorate in history from Miami in 1984). The middle daughter is studying computer engineering, and the youngest daughter will study microbiology when she begins college in the fall.
While Cathy works as a nurse at an outpatient clinic in Hamilton and the Schmidt kids are studying or at their respective jobs, Bob marvels that he gets to go to work each day.
“I wouldn’t trade this job for anything,” he said. “I’d like to think I built this up a lot myself.”
One Miami librarian has worked closely with Bob over the years.
“He’s really the perfect archivist,” Jenny Presnell, a humanities and social science librarian said. “He’s a collector of facts and ideas. He knows what’s going on and if you say something that you’re looking for he can come up with not only stuff in the archives, but a story or something about it and help you go in a different direction.”
When Presnell and another faculty member initiated Miami’s oral history compilation, they were constantly talking to Bob about finding things in the archives.
“He was integral to the project,” Presnell said. “We couldn’t have done it without him.”
Bob was also instrumental in compiling the Bicentennial edition of Miami’s history. Prior to the bicentennial, Walter Havighurst’s Miami history book had been updated from its earliest version 176 years ago.
Curt Ellison, the editor of “Miami University: Bicentennial Perspectives” and professor emeritus who taught the history of Miami, would often take his students to the archives and have them write their own versions of local history.
“That’s a very good way to teach history and so I’ve been doing that with (Bob) for some time,” Ellison said.
When a group of university faculty began researching and writing for the Bicentennial book, Bob assisted with research, writing and editing.
“He can catch things that don’t look quite right in a text and trace down accuracy questions involved,” Ellison said.
After the Bicentennial history was complete, Bob’s schedule was less hectic.
Bob’s busiest times during the year are a month before exams, but he says he stays consistently busy organizing and pulling materials for different people. Bob said he recently pulled materials for the class of 1960, and he often gets calls from the public information office.
“What keeps us going are the university offices,” Bob said.
Much of Bob’s work is reactive, he said. He reminds people around the university to send him documents, and many times takes photos or things alumni will send him.
“Bob is an underappreciated resource,” Presnell said. “He knows so much. He always says he knows where the bodies are buried. There’s a knowledge there that anybody else who comes after him just won’t have.”
Bob won’t live forever, but his knowledge will be preserved in his writing, and his legend in the archives.
“It’s something I can say I definitely accomplished in my life,” Bob said.
The archives are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but after 1 p.m. are by appointment only.