Monday, October 27, 2008

L.A. Archives

It’s no surprise that my husband Tim and I love Los Angeles. We’re both native Angelenos (Tim from the Valley and me Burbank) and big fans of almost anything related to 20th century Southern California. No wonder, then, that we happily looked forward to attending the 3rd annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar this past weekend.

Part of the “L.A. as Subject” project, the Bazaar showcases libraries and other agencies that collect various aspects of Los Angeles history. Not only did the day-long event feature well-known speakers, such as Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic, and artist J. Michael Walker, but also panel discussions on several topics, including how to search digital collections, how to use DNA to augment genealogical research, and what to do with old home movies. Four California Council for the Humanities-supported documentaries were also screened, including the much-anticipated “Chicano Rock! The Sounds of East Los Angeles,” which is scheduled to air on PBS, December 14. (We’ve already marked our calendars!).

But the best part of the day was the exhibit rooms, where more than 50 archives shared information about their unique historical holdings. Participants included everyone from USC's Aerospace History Project to UCLA’s Department of Special Collections, from the Los Angeles City Archives to the LA84 Foundation’s Sports Library. Hundreds of people browsed the displays and discussed research strategies with enthusiastic exhibitors. Tim found a photo of his childhood Little League team on Cal State Northridge’s San Fernando Valley digital archives database, while I gathered brochures and chatted with colleagues, many of whom were former students. It was heaven-on-earth for scholars and amateur historians alike.

As a librarian who periodically conducts historical research, I was amazed at the number of resources I knew nothing about. Who knew, for instance, that Occidental College houses one of the largest collections of detective stories, as well as extensive documentation of the Japanese-American relocation during WWII? I was also completely clueless about the Seaver Center for Western History Research located within L.A. county’s Natural History Museum.

Perhaps the most profound revelation, though, was the “L.A. as Subject” database, which lists nearly 300 historical collections throughout Los Angeles and beyond. As a reference tool, the list brings together primary resources on numerous topics and provides contact info, hours open, etc., for each participating archive. The interface is a little clunky—e.g., there’s no alphabetical list of all the collections and subject access is rather limited—still, this is an excellent start to shedding light on previously unknown archives.

Now, if only I had time to research the countless historical topics I’m interested in . . .

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