Saturday, February 4, 2017

Notes from my trip to the Academy Library

I visited the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library on February 2 to 17, 2017. It is a researcher’s dream. There is so much information that you could never see all of it, and the library staff is incredibly kind and helpful. Special thanks go to librarians Linda Harris Mehr, Louise Hilton and Marisa Duron who were particularly helpful during my visit.

A few notes that are specific to our project:

The library’s official policy is that membership information is considered confidential and restricted for forty years, which placed the official cut off date at 1977 as of the time of my visit. But like any large research facility that gets historical documents donated to them, the implementation and enforcement of that policy can vary widely, and I managed to uncover several documents that were dated later than that.

In some cases, I found that there were more recent documents that hadn’t been catalogued yet, so they didn’t realize that membership information was scattered throughout a large file. In other cases, my presence seemed to remind them that the policy existed, and items that had been catalogued and even advertised in their online manuscript inventory were marked as confidential right before I could see them, or right after I had seen them.

In one case, a file even got reclassified as confidential while I was in the middle of reading it! While I was sitting at the table! The library staff was very polite and apologetic about it, but were forced to take it away nonetheless. (Not to worry, though. I’ve already marked my calendar to make a return trip in 2027, the date that particular document will become unclassified again!)

As a result, some of the citations in our project say “May have been reclassified as confidential since my viewing on 2/2/2017”, with a link to this post to help explain why the document may not show up in the library catalogs anymore -- at least until the date that the particular document gets unclassified again.

A few other notes for our researchers:

The library has a generous photocopying policy, but I found that any item that contains a membership list is usually considered ineligible for photocopying -- even if it’s from before 1977. So the best thing to do is to bring your laptop and be prepared to retype all the names by hand, as I did.

The library computers also have a database with all of the Academy Governors from the founding. I’ve already gone through that and should have that updated on the site soon. And as a special treat, I got to view a series of Legacy Gallery Plaques in their outside portico.

All in all, it was a very productive trip for The Academy Members Project. From the few weeks that I was there, I took hundreds of pages of typewritten notes (yes, hundreds), which will take me at least a few months to get fully added to the site.

I can’t wait to go back and see what else there is to find!
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