Keeping Kurt Vonnegut's Voice in Indiana

The first time Rai Peterson paid a visit to the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) was a few months after its November 2010 opening. At the time, the associate professor of English, whose students were reading Vonnegut's books in class, remembers how inviting the space appeared.

And yet, Peterson recalls leaving the library knowing Ball State could help make it better. "I knew we could get a group from Ball State to expand what the library had to offer," Peterson recalls. "I had this vision for his manuscripts to be represented there, a film archive to be compiled there. I knew members of the museum's board wanted a traveling exhibit. I thought, 'We can make this happen.'"

Before planning was complete, Peterson and Russ Wahlers, associate professor of marketing who joined as faculty co-lead on the project, had secured a total of more than $76,000 from the university and numerous contributing partners, including the Indiana Historical Center, WFYI-TV and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The money allowed them to recruit a team of students for an immersive learning project that would tackle five major projects for the library over the first six months of 2012: a digitization of Vonnegut manuscripts; a film archive and oral history of the author for display; a traveling exhibit; new products for its gift shop and a marketing plan to help the KVML become self-sustaining.

Students participating in the interdisciplinary group represented academic disciplines that included English literature and creative writing, business marketing and administration, and journalism graphics. A member of the archives team, English major Todd Bastin, '14, said one of his favorite aspects of the project was the unique opportunity to handle personal documents of an author he loves. "Reading his handwritten notes and unpublished materials, seeing into his private life through personal effects like family photos and grocery lists—well, it’s been quite the privilege,” he says.

Of the contributions the team made to the library, the traveling exhibit is a favorite for KVML executive director Julia Whitehead. With its fact-laden banners, replica of Kurt's typewriter and iPads housing archive material about the author, it's a sort of miniature replica of the library, she says.

"I never imagined how much time, resources and energy this group would put into this effort," Whitehead adds. "It has far exceeded my expectations."

With all of the students' new assets in place at KVML, student Andrew Neylon, '14, says he hopes the group's work can set a precedent for the advancements the KVML can make for the future. "I hope it draws new members, and that old members re-visit and notice a tangible difference after what we've done," he says. "I hope we've done our part, in some small way, at least, to ensure that Vonnegut's voice never leaves Indiana."

Related links:

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

Immersive Learning

College of Communication, Information, and Media

Miller College of Business

College of Sciences and Humanities

Department of Journalism

Department of English