Vertical File

The vertical file contains clippings, pamphlets, reprints, and other miscellaneous materials relating to persons, places, organizations, and topical subjects relating to Michigan. Click on one of the topics to see a list of the vertical file folders in that section.

History and Scope of the Vertical File

The Michigan Historical Collections has maintained a vertical file since the mid-1940s. From the beginning, the purpose of the vertical file was to arrange and store small items, memorabilia, and ephemeral material pertaining to the state of Michigan and the University of Michigan. For the most part, the vertical file contains printed items, only. Manuscript material and other unique items were, generally, not placed in the vertical file. Some of the materials in the vertical file include: newspaper clippings, press releases, programs, speeches, sermons, reprints, and obituaries. In a sense, the vertical file may be thought of as the Michigan Historical Collection's scrapbook.

Over the years, the Michigan Historical Collection's librarian, who was in charge of printed material, maintained the vertical file with the help of the library assistants. Following archival philosophy, the issuing organization was usually the first choice for a heading, with subject second and author third. Donated items were included as were items assembled by the library's staff. Newspaper clippings, which constitute the largest portion of the file, were first mounted and then photocopied on acid free paper. On the theory that historical material does not go out of date, the vertical file was seldom weeded.

Today, the vertical file is a storehouse of basic information on a wide variety of persons, subjects, and organizations. While this information is not unique nor usually very extensive, it is assembled in the vertical file in such a way as to provide easy access for many research needs. The reference staff uses the vertical file for "quick fixes" for many routine reference questions. The field staff will often consult it as they consider possibilities for future donations. Researchers, who may not want to conduct a lengthy study of some subject, may find just the right amount of information in the vertical file. Last and most importantly, since very little has been written on some subjects and since the library cannot hope to collect material on every subject related to Michigan, the vertical file is frequently the only place in the library where information on some subjects may be found.

In recent years, due to space considerations, the vertical file has not been added to as extensively as in the past. Hence, very current subjects may not be well represented in its files. Still, the vertical file remains an important research tool at the Bentley Library.

Several important features of the vertical file should be noted at the beginning. First, unlike many library vertical files, which are alphabetically arranged, the arrangement of the Michigan Historical Collection vertical file parallels that of the Michigan Historical Collection printed collection. A combination of biographical, subject, and organizational headings, are used in this classification scheme although, within a given heading, the arrangement tends to be alphabetical. Second, unlike other vertical files, which tend to house current information, the orientation of the Michigan Historical Collection vertical file is historical. Third, new folder headings are not added according to a master plan but rather additions are made when material becomes available and when the staff recognizes a need for a new heading. This means that research in the vertical file can be a rather serendipitous affair.