Laramie – After 105 years in operation, the University of Wyoming’s Wool Lab is being dismantled.
“The Wool Lab was founded in 1907 by John Hill, who became Dean of the College of Agriculture at UW,” explains Carly-Ann Anderson, library assistant at UW in charge of collecting and cataloguing artifacts from the lab. “It was in operation in some capacity until 2012.”
The UW Wool Lab was used to distribute information about wool and sheep to ranchers across Wyoming.
“There was a lot of research going on about all aspects of sheep and wool,” Anderson notes. “The lab is probably most well-known for having a processing plant and scouring lab where ranchers could send wool samples to find out about the quality of their wool.”
While she says that wool science has changed to encompass more of an emphasis on the genetics and breeding of sheep, she also notes, “I think there is an idea that wool is still the fiber it always has been.”
Anderson continues that the collection from the lab is expansive.
“We have over 1,000 individual titles from the lab’s collection,” she says. “The oldest is from the 1840s and they continue to about the 1980s, when the activity in the lab was being ramped down.”
The collection also includes 267 volumes of bound journal articles collected by faculty and staff at the lab.
“It is really interesting to see the variety of information collected,” Anderson continues. “They collected everything from obvious information about sheep and wool to information on livestock breeding and farm management in general.”
The lab was also home to an interesting collection of wool samples, collected and preserved in sealed mason jars. The oldest wool sample is a Saxony Merino clip from 1837.
“We are hoping the samples will be an interesting resource for the library to house,” Anderson adds.
Today, since the building where all the equipment was stored is being removed, efforts are being made to gather the information from the lab to be housed in the UW Library’s Emmett D. Chisum Special Collections.
“We are in the process of cataloging the information, but anyone who wants to visit is more than welcome,” adds Anderson. “We are also digitizing many of the materials and working with UW Extension to develop a web documentary.”
In collecting additional information, she notes that UW is working to collect oral histories from people in Wyoming who have worked in or been affiliated with the activities in the wool lab.
“We want to learn more about the lab and what it meant to Wyoming and the West,” Anderson explains. “We are looking to collect opinions of what the collection means to people. We would love to hear from sheep producers who can tell us why they would use the collection.”
The library encourages anyone with stories about the lab and its importance to contact Anderson.
“We appreciate anyone who can come in and tell us more about what we have,” she says.
The main goal of the library, however, is to disseminate the information to people who are interested in using it.
With efforts to move the information from the wool lab to UW’s Library system, Anderson notes that there are still items that don’t necessarily fit within the scope of the library that are important to the lab’s history.
“The library has taken acquisition of all the paper library materials from the wool lab,” comments Anderson, “but there is still a question of what to do with the lab equipment. We are putting together a cooperative effort to save the equipment, but obviously, we can’t keep it in the library.”