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Ball State preservation team nearly done cataloguing 1,000-item Letterman collection

MUNCIE, Ind. - It's taken nearly two years, but a large donation from David Letterman is getting closer to being fully preserved. The late night talk show host donated over a thousand items to Ball State University in 2015, which the school has been going through for the better part of a year.

Letterman announced after his retirement that he was donating items from his career to his alma mater, but those materials didn't begin arriving on campus until August of last year. Since then, staff at the school's office of Archives & Special Collections have been digging through, sorting and researching what exactly Letterman gave up.

The items spanned Letterman's more than 30-year career in television and include things from his time in Muncie.

"Seeing all the Emmy awards, because how significant Emmy awards are, to see them, to hold them, to open them up," said Michael Szajewski, the assistant dean of Digital Scholarship & Special Collections at Ball State University, who has been assigned to lead the archiving task of the collection. "We have about 50 audio and video recordings from his early career. There is a sound check from WBST, Ball State's radio station from the 1960s when he was a student here. I thought that was really cool to see these snapshots of his very early career."

The collection is in a secure area with a fire suppression system to preserve Letterman's items at the Bracken Library on campus.

Besides the prestigious awards, of which 15 were donated by Letterman, the collection includes several photos from "The Late Show" of Dave and a variety of guests. There are also photos of Letterman with Johnny Carson when he got his start in late night guest hosting on "The Tonight Show."

The largest items all come from the end of Letterman's run on late night. Dave's desk, chair and the guest's chair are all part of the collection, as well as the marquee that sat outside the Ed Sullivan Theater. The sign that lit New York each night now sits in a larger facility at BSU, for the time being.

It'll still take a couple of months for the university to finish preserving the collection.

"We're processing the materials, describing them, and arranging them," said Szajewski. The university is getting the items in preservation foam and boxes to keep them long-lasting. "Things of museum and archival quality to ensure the long-term preservation of the materials.

The size and variety of items leaves the university with the job of how to best display the collection, which should happen some time in 2018. A committee has met since last year to discuss the best way to make this one-of-a-kind collection accessible to all.

"We want to be sure we expose this collection in the right way," said Philip Repp, the university's dean at the College of Architecture and Planning. "We want students to see this collection, we want researchers to see it and we also want visitors to see this collection."