Tag Archives: archives

Exploring Arts, Archives, and Special Libraries at SLA Boston 2015

By Megan De Armond

Image courtesy SLA B&F

Image courtesy SLA B&F

I started library school in the fall of 2014 thinking I might want to be an archivist, but not certain about which area I wanted to focus on. I attended SLA student chapter meetings at Pratt Institute (SLA@Pratt) and was inspired by then chapter President Sarah Davis’s enthusiasm about the organization and all it had to offer at the student, local chapter and national level. I joined SLA in January of this year prior to attending SLA NY’s Student Swing, which ended up leading to an internship at the American Museum of Natural History. In April of this year, during one of the student chapter meetings, Sarah talked about her great experience at the 2014 SLA conference in Vancouver and the connections she made and the sessions she enjoyed. She highly encouraged all of us at the meeting to go. I registered a few days later. I was eager to experience a library conference, but also skeptical about how fulfilling it might be. I had never attended a library conference, though I had attended other conferences.

I have found that librarians are generous with information and their time, and willing to offer suggestions and share ideas with anyone who asks. I’m beginning to believe this is a characteristic of the profession. At the SLA conference, I found the environment overall to be supportive; it seemed evident that the attendees wanted each other to succeed. Continue reading

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The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library

 The Forgotten World of Masonic Libraries

By Scott Bisogni

For over 150 years, The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library of Grand Lodge of the State of New York, located at Masonic Hall at 71 West 23rd Street in Manhattan, has focused on trying to collect, study, and preserve Masonic heritage. Originally established in the 1850’s to hold the books and records held by the Grand Lodge, it was not until the late 19th century that the library began to expand. This expansion was due mainly to the addition of the collection of Robert Morris, Masonic poet laureate. The Livingston continued to grow over the years from donations and acquisitions of new books relating to Freemasonry. It was not until 1935 that the library started taking on the form that it currently holds. During this year, the Livingston and the Grand Lodge Board of Antiquities were combined. Under the Board of General Activities, the Livingston and the Museum merged into one organization and took its place at Masonic Hall, where the library served mainly as a reading room for Masons.

Throughout the 20th century, under the leadership of Wendell K. Walker, the services and resources of the library increased and helped to make the library a premiere center for Masonic research. This status was substantiated in 1983 with the attainment of a charter from the New York State Board of Regents. In1996 the Library was moved to the 14th floor of Masonic Hall. At this location facilities were constructed to provide environmental controls for the book and artifact collections. Here also there is a reference staff to assist researchers. The library is open to the general public for research, but since it is a research facility the stacks are kept closed. A limited number of books are available for check out. The circulating book collection consists of two copies of books published after 1920. Any New York State Master Mason in good standing with a lodge under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of New York may check out up to five books for a period of three weeks. One copy of the reference book must be kept on the shelves at all times to insure continued access to that reference material.

The Livingston Masonic Library is a small but important library. When getting off the elevator on the 14th floor, there are two wall size display cases filled with old Masonic swords and artifacts. When entering the library, a researcher would be in what is considered the museum. Here visitors are exposed to some of the artifacts that are held in the Livingston’s collections. These artifacts are cataloged by a custom in house system that was developed by a past curator. In the corner of the library, there is a computer terminal that is connected to the library’s database.

When searching the collections, there are two access portals. The first gives access to the library’s book catalog, which includes only the circulating collection. Any rare or older books are found in the artifact catalogs. Researchers interested in the artifact collection are directed to the George Washington National Masonic Memorial Association in Alexandria, Virginia, which has teamed up with the Livingston Library in an ongoing attempt to develop the Memorial’s United States Masonic Digital Collection. This online catalog of Masonic items will use the Content DM software program, licensed by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), Inc., of Dublin, Ohio. Information is being merged between these two Masonic organizations not only to increase the visibility of the collections, but also in an ongoing attempt to help standardize the display of Masonic collections.

By searching through these collections, a researcher can get a glimpse into everyday life from America’s past. For example, a look through the Recently Uploaded Artifacts and Biographies Collection turns up a cigarette case, a hand mirror, and a standing thermometer, all of which would have been used in the early to mid 1900s. For more specific research, searching by an individual name returns better results.

Whether positive or negative, many individuals have made contributions to American History and Freemasons count within these ranks. The Livingston offers help in searching for information on these people. For example, a researcher searching for information on Benedict Arnold, would find the Livingston a good place to look. He was a patriot and Freemason before becoming a traitor. A quick search in the book catalog returns six bibliographic results. The first result reveals the book Benedict Arnold: patriot and traitor by Willard Sterne Randall. When the book symbol is clicked, cataloging information is displayed along with a copy of the index card from the card catalog. This book provides information on Arnold’s influence in American History. For a more detailed look, a search through the artifact collection is warranted. When Benedict Arnold is entered into the keyword search field, the first result of many is very specific: the Minutes Book from Solomon’s Lodge No. 1 in Poughkeepsie, NY. This book records a visit from Benedict Arnold in 1771, before he became a traitor. It also records the Lodge’s reaction in 1781 when his actions became known. As a side note, George Washington is also recorded as a visitor in 1782. Using this minutes book, a researcher can get a personal glimpse into everyday Americana and see what went on behind the scenes as history unfolded. The book has been photographed and put online in a high-resolution image so that it can be fully researched online. To see the actual artifact, a researcher must make a request to the Director, who determines on an individual basis whether to grant access to handle an artifact. The insight gained by actually looking at a piece of American History instead of just reading about it can make a difference when studying a topic.

The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives →

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The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives

 The Forgotten World of Masonic Libraries

By Scott Bisogni

The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives was established in 1975 as the research library of what is now known as the National Heritage Museum. The library supports Museum efforts by collecting reference materials on the subjects of Freemasonry, American history, the decorative arts, technology, social and military history with emphasis on the events of the Revolutionary War. Over the years the library has collected over 60,000 volumes, including 1,600 periodical titles. The Archives collections also holds over 2,000 cubic feet of material.

Given its connection with the museum, The Van Gorden-Williams holds many items related to American History. The general American History collection consists of approximately 15,000 books. The holdings of the library were expanded twice with the addition first of the Lloyd Brinkman collection of approximately 900 volumes on New York State history and then the Carl Wahlstrom collection of 3,500 books focusing on U.S. Presidents and other American leaders of the 20th century. These two collections now form the core of the American history collection. In 1977 the library also acquired the Sidney L. De Love collection of about 1,500 books on American history with a Civil War emphasis. Alongside its book collections, the library holds a number of maps pertaining to the exploration and formation of North America and the establishment of the colonies. Among this collection are maps of Revolutionary War battles and traveling aids used in America’s westward expansion. Items from later in United States History are included as well, such as posters from WWI and WWII, postcards, materials on teenage hoboes, and documents from several U.S. Presidents. In addition, the Library maintains current secondary sources related to the Museum’s object collections covering topics such as decorative arts, material culture, and public history.

The Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives is primarily a non-circulating research facility granting public access to their collections through online databases. A small number of books are available for borrowing by Freemasons. The artifact collection is searchable through a keyword phrase search field. Results give a researcher the title of the piece, a description, some background information on the object, and any pictures of the piece. The online pictures of the artifacts are small and at a low resolution. High resolution images are for public sale from the library. If the researcher needs to see an artifact, like at the Livingston, permission is reviewed and granted on an individual basis.

The book catalog is a relational database searchable by keywords. A History link shows subject collections put together in the form of educational exhibits intended to introduce and help people find information on a variety of topics. In the subject of American History, for example, is the topic of Masonic Explorers and Frontiersmen. This link will take you to others related to that subject. For example, here you can find links to books, photographs, and memorabilia regarding Lewis and Clark’s expedition. This tool assists in broadening a specific keyword search to help a researcher get a better understanding of a given piece of history.

The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania →

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The Forgotten World of Masonic Libraries

By Scott Bisogni

The world of Special Libraries is a wonderful and informative place. Researchers over the years have come to learn to navigate these unique collections to unlock the knowledge within. Many libraries have become well known in the research community and are frequently used. However, one group of libraries remains mostly forgotten and rarely visited by those outside their membership community. These are the libraries of the Freemasons. Continue reading

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The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

 The Forgotten World of Masonic Libraries

By Scott Bisogni

The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is another special library that too often goes unnoticed. The Library and Museum’s main focus is on Pennsylvania Symbolic Masonry, but other themes are also addressed in its collections. It was established in 1817 and became part of the Museum when it was founded in 1908. The museum itself is a work of art whose architecture and decorations is Byzantine in design: each of the four walls and the ceiling of the Museum Room has an individual theme designed to complement the wonder in the collection. The library and museum are proud to have materials in areas of biographies of Masons, religion, architecture, history, philosophy, music and writings or works of art by Masons. The library also houses related information such as a facsimile edition of the Book of Kells, used as an aid in understanding the decorations in Norman Hall.

The library predates the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress classification systems, but the Online Public Access Catalog of the library is easy to use, including a basic keyword search field and advanced options for Boolean searching. The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania is another excellent resource for American History. For example, a researcher looking for information on Benjamin Franklin, would find a wealth of material to work with. As far as books go, a small area in the reference library is dedicated to Ben Franklin alone and includes a large two-volume set titled The Life of Benjamin Franklin. For artifacts, not only does the museum have Benjamin Franklin’s 1779 Masonic sash, but also a 1734 copy of his book The Constitutions of Freemasons, which he wrote and printed himself. A great man, leader and freemason, Benjamin Franklin helped write the history now studied.

The Chancellor Robert R Livingston Masonic Library →

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