Sam Childers: Mining the ‘true gems' of SMU's libraries

Sam Childers
Sam Childers

Historian Sam Childers specializes in writing micro-histories in which he focuses on "one very special event in a short timeframe." Capturing these brief moments in time with credible details demands substantial research, and primary research requires outstanding libraries like those of SMU, he says.

Childers serves as President of Friends of the SMU Libraries, which he joined five years ago, in part because of the borrowing privileges that come with membership at the Associate level and higher. "The collections of SMU's libraries are unparalleled resources in North Texas, and the ability to access them as a Friend is a very valuable benefit," he says.

That access played a vital role in a recent project. While writing an article for the journal White House History, he struck gold at DeGolyer Library with a collection of works related to Theodore Roosevelt. "The piece is on presidential valets, and at the DeGolyer I found a book by James E. Amos, Roosevelt's valet," he explains. The book, Theodore Roosevelt: Hero to His Valet, was published in 1927, and from the title it is clear the esteem in which the valet held his employer. "SMU's libraries have so many true gems like that book," says Childers.

Childers' résumé reflects his passion for history. A 1995 graduate of Texas Woman's University with a B.S. in history, Childers has served in various positions with the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum in Atlanta and the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History & Culture. He now devotes his time to writing, with an emphasis on his special interest, presidential history.

Among his current projects is a book on Lady Bird Johnson's four-day train tour of the South in 1964. "I was lucky enough to meet Mrs. Johnson before she passed away in 2007," he says, "and I've been spending a lot of time at the Johnson Library in Austin."

While he appreciates the technology that allows him to access library resources via the Internet, nothing compares to the thrill of holding a letter written by a figure like Mrs. Johnson, he says. "There are still many resources that are available only in a physical format, so you have to go to a library for them. We are so lucky to have the special collections of DeGolyer Library and other SMU libraries, which are filled with such treasures," he says.

"But SMU's libraries are so much more than repositories," he adds. "They are gathering places, welcoming environments for all who love to learn."