MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Over the years, the school’s Otto G. Richter Library, built for $3 million, has grown into one of Florida’s largest repositories for some of the region’s most significant collections of memorabilia and history.

The Pan Am airline collection soars here. The departed Orange Bowl is documenting every step of the way. The Charles Deering and Marjory Stoneman Douglas collections afford visitors and researchers a tantalizing look into South Florida’s history.

Additionally, the Cuban Heritage Collection on the library’s second floor gathers more than 50,000 books, periodicals, photographs and newspapers from colonial times to the present.

CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald reports that on Friday evening, the 50th anniversary of the 1962 dedication was celebrated at an invitation-only event before more than 150 UM dignitaries, donors and alumni.

The group included humorist Dave Barry, who, upon learning from UM President Donna Shalala that the library was students’ favorite hot spot on campus, theorized “that’s because of the free heroin program.” Barry quickly corrected the misinformation. “It’s crack,” he said.

Barry, 65, who contributes columns for The Miami Herald, sat for an interview session conducted by Shalala. On the eve before polls opened for the 2012 presidential election, they discussed very important world matters.

Barry, at Shalala’s questioning, opined on why he didn’t much like Neil Diamond’s 1971 hit song, I Am…I Said , and how that viewpoint triggered a firestorm with Herald readers. (“They say people don’t care about issues.”) He talked about the futility of using explosives to remove a rotting beached whale off the storm-tossed coast of Oregon — makes quite a mess, for one thing.

What any of these discussions had to do with the celebration of the library’s silver anniversary is a mystery Barry might have to unravel in a future column. But the funny man was an inspired choice for the occasion, said Cristina Favretto, head of special collections for the Richter Library: “We wanted to bring a speaker who was a Miami person who has written about Miami and who could engage with President Shalala. What can be better than someone who is smart and who cares about the city and where it’s been and where it’s going?”

The Richter has become a resource for the community, researchers and producers who want to find out about South Florida’s past and potential future.

“We’re used by students’ classes every week as they are learning about a variety of topics. One might be looking at Latin text, rare books from the early 1500s, then, next week, a class might look at our Haitian Women of Miami Collection,” Favretto said, adding that the Pan Am Collection is one of the most popular draws. This was especially the case last year when producers of the defunct ABC series Pan Amcalled on the Richter’s staff to authenticate images they planned to replicate on television.

“Filmmakers were in contact with us many times to determine interior shots for the inside of airplanes or terminals or for photographs of what the flight attendants looked like. When they filmed [Steven Spielberg’s] Catch Me If You Can, they wanted a copy of a check from Pan Am to see what it looked like,” Favretto said.

At the Richter, papers and materials from the Munroe, Merrick and Matheson families help tell the story of the Grove, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne, respectively, Favretto said.

Other acquisitions on display at Friday’s gathering: a slave register from the 1800s, a business-like document written in florid long-hand, which detailed the births and deaths of slaves. Counterculture ‘zines from ‘60s and ‘70s Miami. A manuscript from William Randolph Hearst.

“We’re preserving the past but we are also looking to the future, not only in what we collect, but we want to make sure we make things available through digitization so it’ll be there 100 years from now,” Favretto said.

One of the library’s most significant undertakings has been the expansion of its Cuban Heritage Collection, established in 1980 and overseen by archivist Esperanza de Varona. The collection now resides in the 10,000-square-foot Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, inaugurated in 2003, and remains under the direction of chairman de Varona who has worked at the Richter for 45 years, almost its entire life-span.

“It’s growing more and more. We have more than 50,000 books, almost all of the newspapers and journals of Cuba, archival material and books that are more than 400 years old in the special collection,” de Varona said.

The Cuban Heritage Collection began an oral history project in 2008 to capture digital interviews with notable Cuban figures who offer perspectives on the island nation. These interviews, 104 so far, include memories from José Basulto, founder of the Cuban exile movement, Brothers to the Rescue; Bay of Pigs veteran Enrique Ros; and Eva Vázquez, an actress in radio, theater and TV in Cuba in the 1940s and 1950s.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)


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