When Robert Kennedy Came to Bloomington

My name is Lora and I am interning at the Indiana University Archives for the summer. As part of my internship, I was asked to assist a patron with a reference request regarding Robert F. Kennedy’s visit to Bloomington. This was my first time using microfilm, which was a great learning experience. I examined articles from The Indiana Daily Student and The Daily Herald-Telephone to see what was published regarding his visit and his assassination a few weeks later.

Senator Robert Kennedy speaks to RCA employees (The Daily Herald-Telephone, 4/25/68)

Kennedy arrived in Bloomington on April 24, 1968, on a campaign tour for the Indiana primary. He was accompanied by former astronaut John Glenn and both were greeted by large crowds when they landed at the Monroe County airport. While in Bloomington, Kennedy made multiple stops, including at a local RCA manufacturing facility and the Indiana University campus, where over 4,000 people came to hear him speak. As a result of this reference request, a previously unknown recording of this important speech was uncovered in another office on campus! A really exciting new acquisition for the University Archives! (Update: This recording has been digitized and is available through Media Collections Online at https://media.dlib.indiana.edu/media_objects/j9602083w.)

Former Astronaut John Glenn and Robert Kennedy upon arriving in Bloomington. (The Daily Herald-Telephone, 4/25/68)

In his speeches, Kennedy focused on issues such as rural development through tax incentives and decreasing America’s role as a world policeman, stating “we must make calm and discriminating judgments as to which governments can and should be helped.” Many of these comments were made within the context of America’s then involvement in Vietnam. Kennedy also called for an end to educational draft deferments, which was met with some boos from students. Despite disagreement with some of his policies, Kennedy left an impression upon many in Bloomington as a charismatic politician and large crowds greeted him wherever he traveled. Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968, and upon news of his death, Bloomington residents expressed shock and sadness at the loss of a “great leader.”


Elementary Reference

The past few months at my internship here in the IU Archives I have been given quite a few reference questions to research for patrons. Two of these questions were from elementary school students in Indiana looking for information about IU for class projects. We’re quite flattered to receive letters from students and even more prepared to help (so if any readers have any questions about IU that you’ve always wanted answered, drop us a line!). One girl was doing a report on March Madness and specifically wanted information on the history of IU’s basketball program (about which we have a large folder of reference information, not surprisingly). The other query concerned a student who wanted to know more about IU’s history for his class report. These questions are easily answered with the use of our many reference files, located in the reading room. These files are great for a quick research question or just for finding out more about IU in a topical manner.

The wonderful part about being an archivist (or a lowly archival intern) is that archivists typically learn random facts about random things throughout the day, especially when working on research questions. For example, I always knew IU’s basketball program had a gloried history (since I grew up in Indiana) but I’d never thought to look more into it. After pulling out two or three packed reference files on the subject, however, it was clear that there is a lot to the story. I never realized that IU’s basketball program has produced so many NBA players – and has for decades – or that we have so many NCAA titles. (Granted, to most fans these realizations will seem obvious.) There are also photos of games throughout the century, and an article describing the first basketball game. I had some trouble narrowing down the folders to a few articles to xerox and mail to the student for her project. There was so much information in the folders.

Additionally, when I looked up basic histories of IU, I found a lot of neat facts that aren’t quite well-known anymore. As a graduate student who lives in Wells Library, I never would have known that there’s a statue of a duck in graduation garb above the west entrance of Goodbody Hall without answering this reference question. Last week I took a walk around campus when the weather was nice and I was able to find the duck-professor. Knowing tiny details about things like this makes me feel closer to this school. A general history of the campus is also online in multiple locations – the archives have a timeline on our web page, which is a great overview of the university’s past. The internet is a good place to find information about the college, but the best place is the archives and the reference files in the reading room. You can learn a lot more than what you came in to find out.

Not all archives have these kind of reference files available to patrons, and arguably an archivist’s time is better spent processing collections and creating finding aids instead of updating reference files. However, files like these provide a wealth of information. Answering archival reference questions can tell you all kinds of things that you otherwise would never have thought to look up. Reference can be a learning experience for both the patron and archivist.

On Goodbody Hall