Fossils, flies and fashion: Meet the director who works with all university collections

Heather Calloway is a collector.

She preserves rare books, rocks and fossils, and even flies.

View print quality image
Heather Calloway is the first executive director of university collections for IU. She engages with all the different collections on all of the campuses including this one, the Mineralogy Reference and Teaching Collection. Photo by Eric Rudd, Indiana University

But the collections aren't in her home. Instead, she works with the team that oversees collections across the campuses of Indiana University.

As the executive director for university collections, being a collector is almost a given, she said. Calloway is the first in the universitywide role created to protect and promote the more than 30 million objects in IU collections.

While based in Bloomington, she works with collections across the state, from the Mathers Museum of World Cultures at IU Bloomington to the Civil Rights Heritage Center in a former segregated city swimming pool at IU South Bend. And the collections are more than books, letters and photos. Calloway works with the teams at the Bloomington Drosophila Stock Center, the Sage Fashion Collection and many more.

The sheer number of items in those collections was exciting to her. Plus, she added that as other places get rid of their collections, institutions of higher education are one of the few places that can still accommodate a large collection.

Calloway, who came to IU from Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, started by traveling the state as she stepped into the new role in September.

"I am still getting to know all the collections and the people who work with them," she said, adding that she's seen 120 of the more than 125 collections. Plus, Calloway said she learns about new collections almost weekly.

Explore IU Collections

Whether it's for research or just for fun, here's how to learn about the university's collections:

She likes to see the collections in their homes -- in stacks and on shelves -- and talk to the staff who work there to learn about their passions and their needs.

While the specifics of the collections are up to the people who are on site with them, Calloway said she hopes to connect staff members across the university to share tips and offer resources. Plus, she said, they never know when they will have to deal with a broken HVAC system or a leaky pipe.

With a background in fraternal and religious collections -- Calloway was previously the museum curator for the House of the Temple, the headquarters of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry -- she said the geological collections are new to her.

Calloway said she's learned a lot about natural history and science through collections of plants, flies and even blood samples. But a lot about collections is the same no matter what they are, she said.

The rock samples need the same type of temperature control as the rare books, for example. "They're just as precious," she said.

We have a lot of collections that people don't know about, and there are so many research opportunities.

Heather Calloway

"We have a lot of collections that people don't know about, and there are so many research opportunities," she said.

Improving that access can start online.

At Washington College, Calloway worked with students to do research on historical items using augmented reality and hopes to do more of that work at IU. She'll help the team working to re-create a giant sloth skeleton with its digital archive.

Digitizing rare items can make them accessible without worry they'll be harmed. And a database could be an easy entry point for researchers to learn what's available.

To boost online engagement with collections, Calloway started @IUCollects on Twitter and Instagram. She also will teach a class about museums and digitization at IUPUI in the spring.

She is also working on a new way to share IU's collections with communities across the state: a traveling exhibit on an RV.

In celebration of the IU Bicentennial, the RV will travel the state for a year, filled with loaned items from the various collections. Interactive screens will display the more fragile items that can't make the trip.

"Our goal is to tell as many different stories as we can and show all the counties how they are linked to IU," she said.