SHSMO: UMSL's Hidden Historical Gem
Updated: Feb 17
By Finneas Gregory
Nestled deep within UMSL’s library building, behind the main staircase and the exhibition of labor art, you’ll find an outpost of a completely independent institution and one of UMSL’s hidden gems. The State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center, colloquially called SHSMO by those who frequent it, is an archive and research center focusing on providing students, faculty, and select members of the public with research materials and primary sources for academic or personal interest purposes.
SHSMO, founded in 1898 by the Missouri Press Association to preserve the state’s newspapers, has slowly expanded in the past 100 years to include everything from books to art to digital records and everything in between. Headquartered in Columbia, with research centers in Kansas City, Rolla, Springfield, Cape Girardeau, and of course, St. Louis, their stated mission is to “Preserve the history and culture of the state of Missouri.”
Between their headquarters and the five research centers, they have amassed over 44000 cubic feet of materials, many of which are available to access online or in person at their locations. They also offer to transport collections between research centers in an effort to bring the past to as many people of the present as possible.
The SHSMO research center on campus is managed by the affable AJ Medlock, who oversees much of the collection and outreach projects, as well as being a notable presence in campus life, making it a point to attend many events, as well as partnering with many history and English classes for interactive projects, and professors for academic research.
Though many of their materials come from St. Louis city and county, they also oversee and gather collections from Pike, Franklin, Warren, Lincoln, and Jefferson counties. “Here at the St. Louis Research center alone, we manage 8133 Cubic feet of collections so there’s more than enough material to go around,” AJ said during an interview; and it is not hard to believe, as much of their space on campus is devoted to towering cabinets and shelves filled with nearly every type of media imaginable.
Some of the highlights of their collections include the Gateway YMCA/YWCA records, the records of the social reform group The New Life Evangelistic Group, and the Marlin Perkins papers, the records of famous zoologist Marlin Perkins, who was the director of the St. Louis Zoo from 1962-1970, and notably the host of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, an educational nature T.V. program.
All of these previously discussed collections and many, many, more are accessible during SHSMO’s regular hours, 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., Tuesday through Friday. If you have any questions about materials, don’t hesitate to ask the staff because, as AJ said, “We’re always trying to pair people up with collections that will be the most help to them.”
Despite the dedication to preserving the past, SHSHMO has plenty of goals for the future. When asked about these goals, AJ said, “Right now our twin goals are trying to bring more people into SHSMO through outreach and bring in more high-ticket collections.”
You too can be part of SHSMO’s future; they offer plenty of volunteer work and internship opportunities for students interested in the fields of history, library science, and archiving, however, they’re very popular, and space is limited, so applicants should reach out via the mediums below as soon as possible.