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Thursday, February 29, 2024

A woman stares into a camera lens as her white turtleneck blouse and long, dark skirt pop out from the neighboring construction site.

Florence Neville Miller’s visit to the Panama Canal, captured in a black-and-white photograph, was preserved by the Smathers Libraries in its Panama Canal Museum Collection.

"We have these great photographs of her touring the construction," said exhibits coordinator Lourdes Santamaría-Wheeler speaking about the early 1900s scene.

At the end of the month, the Smathers Libraries will lose the grant that helped document the Panama Canal Museum’s integration into the library and preserve the since-closed museum’s artifacts, she said.

After the Panama Canal Museum closed, its collection was moved from Seminole, Florida to UF, Santamaría-Wheeler said. The almost $500,000 National Leadership Grant came from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and was used for documenting and preserving. It also allowed for the collection to be moved, Santamaría-Wheeler said. UF agreed to store about 18,000 of the museum’s items inside its libraries, collaborating with the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art and the University’s Center for Latin American Studies.

"The collection doesn’t go anywhere (after we lose the grant)," Santamaría-Wheeler said. "The collection is a part of UF. It’s part of the library."

With the grant, she said the Smathers Libraries hired three people: one to manage a volunteer program, one to manage communications and one to manage intake and operations of incoming donations.

"The three positions (will) end," said Lee Herring, the Panama Museum Collection’s communications assistant, who will be retiring Oct. 1 after 30 years at UF.

The library also used the grant to hold the Panama Canal’s centennial celebration in 2014.

Traditionally, libraries do not collect a lot of artwork, especially not textiles or fabric art. Smathers Libraries has been able to collect and display these artifacts, while also managing an online database that includes letters, diaries and more than 45 oral history videos.

"It’s kind of unique in the academic library world," Herring said. "It is something that other universities are looking at."

Santamaría-Wheeler said she encourages students to visit the collection.

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"Just because it is the Panama Canal Museum Collection doesn’t mean that if you’re studying something other than Panama, that there wouldn’t be something of interest," she said. "There’s photography in it. There’s art in it. There’s journalism in it because of the way it was talked about. There is something for everyone."

  • Three former Panama Canal residents — President Joseph J. Wood, Vice President Betty LeDoux-Morris and Executive Vice President Charles W. Hummer Jr. — founded the museum.
  • Charles W. Hummer Jr. was a major catalyst in the development of the museum and its extensive collection.

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