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Humans of the Hilltop: Linda Aylward

Bradley’s Special Collections Center contains a number of historical documents and artifacts. There are hours of video interviews of World War II veterans just waiting to be watched and a 400-year-old copy of Pope Clement VIII’s “Bishop’s Ceremonial” sits on the highest shelf near the door.

But Linda Aylward, a Special Collections Center assistant, has her own interests.

“[Choosing a favorite item] is like picking one of your kids,” Aylward said. “I’m kind of partial to some of the photographic images in our Jack Bradley Collection. He was quite interested in cemetery art, and I have an interest in local history.”

Aylward, a self-proclaimed local history buff, began work at Bradley five years ago – and her passion for the history of Peoria and of university foundress Lydia Moss Bradley has since grown.

“I retired from working at the Peoria Public Library … and didn’t want to really fully retire yet, so I came [to Bradley] and said I was interested in continuing to work in a library with local history,” Aylward said. “Some of my years at Peoria Public [Library], I worked in other branches and departments, but I spent the last 10 years or so working exclusively in local history and genealogy.”

At the Special Collections Center, Aylward is “the organizer,” cataloguing documents and artifacts, classifying objects in the vault, pulling items together from Peoria Historical Society collections and digitizing the library’s pieces.

“Getting the [documents] all catalogued, the book arts collection, academic collections … They’re all shelved together, they all have catalogue numbers and notations that show what part of the collection they’re part of,” Aylward said. “So, it’s a lot easier to know if you’re searching for something in particular that we do have it, and so you don’t have to look 10 places to find one particular item.”

On any given day, she works with two other Special Collections Center librarians to organize and preserve the collection materials, as well as a number of student interns.

“The funny thing about any of our jobs is that you can have beautifully crafted plans as to what you are going to be doing, and depending on the phone ringing or who walks in the door, it’s just up-in-the-air,” Special Collections Center director Chuck Frey said. “A lot of our plans are long-range.”

Rachel Spires, a sophomore Special Collections Center student worker, said she has no doubt Aylward thrives from working with history every day.

“It’s interesting to work with [Linda] because she knows so much about everything in Special Collections,” Spires, a nursing major, said. “She knows the who, what, when, where and why of most of the things inside. I find that very amazing, [and I] also enjoy her passion for all of the history in Peoria and Bradley.”

When she isn’t tucked away on the third floor of the Cullom-Davis Library, Aylward is recreating history in her own way.

“I have a number of reproduction clothes that are made from patterns that are researched back to the 1860s … and I’m a member of the Metamora Courthouse Civil War Dance Society,” she said. “[My] red dress … is kind of a formal visitor’s kind of dress that was popular during the 1860s … It’s kind of in-tune with the portrait [Bradley artist-in-residence] Donna Carr Roberts did of Lydia as a younger woman in a red dress.”

Last semester Bradley celebrated the bicentennial birthday of Lydia Moss Bradley – so Aylward broke out her 19th century costumes and knowledge of the foundress’ life as she appeared at a number of birthday-themed events.

“It was kind of fun to carry through the last event of her birthday year with a personal appearance, talking about my life as Lydia and wearing a dress in the 1860s style in the color red – which was her favorite color,” she said.

After this semester ends, Aylward will take on new projects with the Special Collections Center, maintaining her work to preserve local history – but she’ll continue to curate her passion for Lydia and all things Bradley.

“It’s all fun,” she said.

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