BobBurbank

Preserving Automotive History

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Several members of the Society of Automotive Historians stated a project to ensure all aspects of automotive history are being preserved, cataloged, archived, and made generally accessible to historians and anyone with an interest in vehicles!

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Mr. Burbank I am curious as to what you mean by the above post.  There are others that have already done a lot of this work like AACA who will be approaching 3,000,000 documents, Revs and others around the world including a host of museums.  Hard to understand what your meaning is.

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Steve & Bob -

We are somewhat aware of the work of the AACA, REVS and others, but on the presumption it's better to duplicate topics and efforts rather than miss a few tasks, these are our thoughts to date:

1.   Establish safe, online resources where information of all types is indexed and accessible for searching and access.

2.   Review, endorse or draft archival standards to preserve paper-based materials and auto history artifacts on other media.

3.   Identify or create an index of U.S. and worldwide digital archives, to include museums, public and private collections and libraries.

4.   Encourage digitization of all automotive resources at all levels - individuals to institutions.

  • Review, endorse or draft standards for digital item categorization to include Nomenclature 4.0 (https://www.nomenclature.info/ this is a standard/controlled vocabulary). 
  • There are many examples of individual collections which could be digitized.

5.   Recognize personal histories, oral and video interviews as automotive history sources.

6.   Encourage coordination of digitization efforts at all levels to avoid duplication.

7.   Recognize sources of non-automotive archival expertise such as the Library of Congress, The Smithsonian Institution, the Getty Research and Conservation Institutes, HathiTrust and the British Museum.

8.   Provide a method of timely communication between automotive historians. This could a forum, with postings organized by topic, membership should be private/controlled. 

9.   Identify existing digital automotive archives, such as the AACA  (http://www.aacalibrary.org/online-catalog/ and the REVS Institute.

10.  Encourage donations of automotive history materials to institutions which will manage and preserve books, photos, documents to archival standards. (see ClassicCars.com: https://journal.classiccars.com/2020/05/06/what-will-you-do-with-your-collection-when-your-time-has-come/

11.  Encourage SAH membership https://autohistory.org/  (Note: All SAH publications are available in digital format, online to members.  SAH also has a very comprehensive "Links" webpage: https://autohistory.org/links-to-online-automotive-history-resources

 

This project was inspired by the March 2019 issue of Hemmings Classic Car featured a profile of the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) on its fiftieth anniversary. This article appeared in March 2020 on the digital version of Hemmings Classic Car: (https://www.hemmings.com/stories/article/the-society-of-automotive-historians  Author and automotive historian Jim Volgarino commented on this article and other comments led to this posting.

 

More later, if there is interest!

 

Bob (in Burbank)

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Ambitious and we wish you luck.  Just a suggestion, resources to do the work and the expense involved might indicate that you consider avoiding duplication of efforts when you can.  Revs, AACA, Simeone and others have been doing this work for years.  AACA has just signed a new IT contract and will have a massive digital presence available in the very near future as we get a easily searchable library catalog online.  The Buick Historical Society is another group that has done a massive amount of work on saving history and several other organizations as well.  I have deep respect for SAH and we have the Dunwoodie files here in our library so I support any and all efforts to preserve history but think someone should take a deep dive into what is already being done and build upon that.  Just my opinion and you know the saying about opinions! 

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Good luck, personally I'd consider the sources Steve mentioned above over a new unknown. I think literature is left to known libraries as a thank you for services done in the past. Bob

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Interesting collection of materials.  I've bookmarked the site.  Funds for this activity are limited, they should consider joining the efforts of the AACA Library which has a much more extensive and comprehensive collection.

 

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The intention of this effort is seek cooperation among organizations whether that is AACA, REVS, Petersen Museum, Detroit Public Library, etc. etc. I appreciate the efforts being made to get automotive history digitized and hopefully accessible without long drawn out procedures that will hamper future historians and enthusiasts. I am an active writer dependent on finding information and it can be frustrating not having access through a common index other than Google. If I search for some obscure manufacturer or personality related to automotive history, I really want to have something more comprehensive that will send me in the right direction without having to dig for hours on end.

 

I understand this is a daunting project. Automotive history is huge (I'm explaining this to the choir, right?) Literature which includes marketing materials, technical information, publications and images are scattered in thousands of locations and yes, there undoubtedly are duplications. Even private collections need to be part of this effort to gather, index and hopefully organize this important information so we can pass this along to future generations in a form they can use.

 

If you've not read https://journal.classiccars.com/2020/05/06/what-will-you-do-with-your-collection-when-your-time-has-come/ please take the time as it points out the challenges we all face as enthusiasts. There needs to be an effort organized in such a way that everyone with information can bring something to the table without fear of competition or territory or any of the other things people seem to think are important in protecting these assets. 

 

I recently obtained a copy of Angelo Wallace's Automotive Literature Index 1947-1976. It is a wonderful resource, but is essentially useless unless you are holding it in your hand. It is not digitized, but covers 16 magazines and journals including Automotive Engineering, Car and Driver, Ward's Auto World and Sports Car Illustrated. His first two volumes have over 56,000 entries and future updates and additional volumes were planned, but I've found no further information.

 

I appreciate being wished "good luck" on this endeavor, but what is really needed is a groundswell of support and a beginning effort. If no one takes the time to at least begin the process, then who will do it? Will all that history simply be lost as museums close, private collections get sent to landfills and access is so restricted that all future historians get to experience is frustration? 

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I can well appreciate what you want to do, in an age of locating something with the fingertap on a computer key it seems a lot of material is sitting, unknown, not utilized etc.  That being said it takes so much time to "translate/save " that material via scan or anyway else for simple easy access it will not be done in ten or even one hundred years. Just knowing that material exists and what issues or where is something that historians/writers are delighted to know about. This goes beyond just automotive history - but for aviation, railroads, ships, etc. Yes, you have to start someplace, but also realize that someone who may have the knowledge or access to the material perhaps can not devote their  time to the needs and desires of the masses. A great idea, and worthy  effort indeed but to locate everything and then handle the fragile 50+ year old documents to be copied and saved is also something that has to be taken into consideration. Have patience, and have the appreciation and understand  many people who will not want to see their aging publications, photographs, catalogs, portfolios, letters subjected to the handling it will take to get their information saved .  I too am a writer/historian and have had to make many trips to libraries and collections to view the material when I was granted permission to do so by those that are the caretakers. When I started to write there was no "on line" source as the was no computers that all of us now are used to and take for granted. I am not putting down your dream and effort, just trying to be realistic.

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And I appreciate your realism, Walt. Indeed, there is lots of history wasting away in poorly filed boxes and cabinets and some carefully placed in suitable surroundings, but when those owners who don't want that material handled are gone, then what? Over the past 10 years or so the demographic of car enthusiasts has risen pretty dramatically. We are seeing huge collections of vehicles, not to mention all sorts of materials, suddenly uncovered because no one knew any of that "stuff" existed. In many cases the families simply don't want to deal with it so much of it gets sold off and scattered to more collections where the process will probably repeat itself again (and maybe again).

I don't think anyone could have foreseen what has been created in the past century and it's a shame that much of that information will be simply lost due to lack of applying expertise that might, over a period of time, preserve those materials going forward. I can remember when Google first appeared and the founders made the bold assertion that the intent was to scan and make available every single book ever published. Yikes! I thought that was a completely crazy idea. And I'm not certain that has been accomplished, but I know what has been done is sizeable and I applaud them for the effort. It might never be completed in the lifetimes of those founders, but they at least pushed to make the effort.

Bringing together the organizations that hold all this history is what this is all about. If the REVS Institute could coordinate its library of racing history images with the Petersen Museum's own image archive, that would be a helpful resource. Or maybe the Detroit Public Library could be indexed through the Simeone Foundation archive of materials (which, by the way, appears to remain in its native paper form).

I often think when I'm in the center of a project, "gee, wouldn't be nice if..." and then I continue on, not making any effort to find out if whatever I was thinking about could be done. I have great respect for those organizations that are making the effort to preserve automotive history, but shouldn't those efforts be coordinated and somehow indexed together. I've done my share of leafing through books and magazines looking for some nugget of information and my office is filled with publications I've collected over the past 40 years. But it's time to think about my contemporary 20 or 30 years from now who is thinking, "why didn't somebody organize this?"

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I really should not play this out in public but despite all the great intentions I see some type of reality check might be in order.  I will point out to an example of a project several years ago that the AACA Library & Research Center tried to accomplish that failed.  Our library staff, along with support from our board, a grant from one of our supporters and others tried to host a conference in Hershey of all the automotive libraries in the US.  Topics of mutual interest would be covered and the idea was to foster cooperation between the libraries. All expenses at the conference would be covered, rooms, meals, etc.  NO CHARGE to anyone attending, just get here.  It went nowhere.

 

We did have a little support but we also had libraries telling us that it made no sense to share ideas, resources or anything of the like as we were "competitors"!  Others said it was to expensive to travel here.  There was a million excuses or just plain no interest.  

 

Our library is a free library and available to everyone world wide,  it is there for the common good, period.  Now that the Simeone and AACA own the the Free Library of Philadelphia's collection it will centralize a lot more material.  Virtually every week (pre-pandemic) we have received collections from basements or personal collections so we know the need for a repository of this info which is why we are building a brand new library to open this fall with massive new technology and access let alone the volume of material.  The idea posed is a noble one, filled with all the good intentions in the world but based upon what we have seen is going to be a massive expense in time and dollars and cooperation with all the stakeholders problematic. 

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Steve has  stated this very well, you can't force people , collections, clubs collections, libraries to all join together - there has to be a community spirit to do so and the attempt has been made and despite the best intentions did not work. That "competitors" or competition of collections has been around for decades and it will always be there despite great intentions and sincere efforts by groups, clubs and individuals to at least get a basis of what is where what exists. Someone will always want to "bask in the glory"  for their own reasons of being "the" place that has "the" collection . Unfortunately for the historians, preservationists, curators, owners , writers etc this plays out all the time. Egos get involved and the main reason to preserve a vehicle, book, library, magazine, photo etc. is what suffers and the public who may get interested in a certain topic are the ones that looses out. This is not a new wave of indifference but has gone on for decades, I saw it 50 years ago.

Some good has happened since then, prime example is what Steve spoke about ( no this is not a paid endorsement) AACA is in the process of out fitting a building to accommodate exactly what is under discussion. There will always be a faction that feels that what they want preserved should be in their own back yard, state  or even their own country. There are some amazing collections kept and organized for the public to access ( with patience) , and there will always be collections in private ownership that we will never see. Try to get all to cooperate - that is the major task . Beyond preservation is also having the material under the careful guidance of people who know what they are looking at! No one is an expert in everything, nor knows all subjects or makes, models etc. But if an effort to coordinate all this goes ignored by most of the major collections for their own reasons ( usually set by the person in charge at the moment) then there is nothing one can do. Authors, writers, researchers, etc have dealt with this and will always deal with this.  The fact that these forums exist, and serve many clubs, makes of cars, eras etc proves that there is one group that is at the forefront to want to bring it all together. Support that group.

WG

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Definitely it is not enough just to amass a collection of material. Almost all of us have done that from the scale of a few brochures and a shop manual all the way up to a Harrah or Walter Miller sized collection.

The big problem is to index and make available to the public that collective mass of material. A truly vast undertaking. The next decade is crucial for all the non mainstream material as much of it will change hands over that time.

And every time it transfers the likelihood it will be lost forever increases. 

 

Greg in Canada

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10 minutes ago, 1912Staver said:

 

The big problem is to index and make available to the public that collective mass of material. A truly vast undertaking. The next decade is crucial for all the non mainstream material as much of it will change hands over that time.

And every time it transfers the likelihood it will be lost forever increases. 

 

Greg in Canada

I just think of the three file cabinets of stuff I have, many items are related to untold/unpublished stories and histories of cars. If I don't organize it and rough out the stories it is all pre 1932 history lost. The first person stories I listened to years ago are all in my memories. Bob 

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Greg,

 

Some times when things get transferred it saves them "forever"!  This is our new building scheduled to open this fall.  35,000 sq. ft. with the entire second floor devoted to a brand new library with room for well over 3,000,00 documents.  A media room, digitization room that is even capable of digitizing film, special rooms for authors/writers to work on research, etc., etc.  Every desk/table set up for laptops for visitors.  Huge WI-FI capability.  THREE librarians with their Masters' degree in Library Science.  Added the purchase of the Philly library and the numerous other collections we house for other car clubs and you have what we believe will be largest  free library dedicated to the automobile in the US.  Yes, I am extremely proud of this venture and all those that have made it happen.  

 

So, you may not be that familiar with us but we will be making a lot of noise come this fall and our massive digital efforts will make it even easier for any in the world to have access to our holdings.  Even you Canadians! :)  (Actually, the BHA has recently brought the McLaughlin collection to our building just waiting to be properly moved to our new home.  

AACA Renderings 1.jpg

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The new AACA library is exciting and I hope someday to have the opportunity to fly out and visit. But that is part of the problem...access. We here in the heartland can't always just pick up and fly to the coast when we want to research something and paying someone else to find that one piece of information we'd like to find sometimes is not workable, particularly if you are writing on deadline and really have no budget for such things.

 

But I am looking forward to what AACA has planned and I hope over time you can acquire some other collections that are out there. This past year I had some contact with the Detroit Public Library's automotive archive which was closed down for a time due to some internal issues and the archivist there said the library continues to work to find funding to keep the archive viable. Money is always a problem, isn't it? If we could have all thought about these issues 50 years ago we might be in a very different place today. But back then I was only concerned about making certain my custom '53 Chevy would run so I could show up downtown in proper fashion!

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Steve, what happens to collections that the AACA Library buys, the good stuff that is added to the main collection. Is there a note on every piece to let the reader know it was once part of a great former collection and credit for saving it goes to them? Bob 

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2 hours ago, Steve Moskowitz said:

Greg,

 

Some times when things get transferred it saves them "forever"!  This is our new building scheduled to open this fall.  35,000 sq. ft. with the entire second floor devoted to a brand new library with room for well over 3,000,00 documents.  A media room, digitization room that is even capable of digitizing film, special rooms for authors/writers to work on research, etc., etc.  Every desk/table set up for laptops for visitors.  Huge WI-FI capability.  THREE librarians with their Masters' degree in Library Science.  Added the purchase of the Philly library and the numerous other collections we house for other car clubs and you have what we believe will be largest  free library dedicated to the automobile in the US.  Yes, I am extremely proud of this venture and all those that have made it happen.  

 

So, you may not be that familiar with us but we will be making a lot of noise come this fall and our massive digital efforts will make it even easier for any in the world to have access to our holdings.  Even you Canadians! :)  (Actually, the BHA has recently brought the McLaughlin collection to our building just waiting to be properly moved to our new home.  

AACA Renderings 1.jpg

 

I definitely applaud the efforts of the AACA ! Digitisation, indexing and access are key and it looks like the AACA is leading the way. Great to hear the McLaughlin material will soon be accessible.

Even here in Western Canada I almost never run into any McLaughlin material older than about 1935. My interest is generally 1925 and older and apart from a few photocopy's I don't think I have

seen more than 4 or 5 original pieces of 1925 or older McLaughlin lit. in the flesh and that's over the last 35 years that I have been looking.

      I get the feeling that a serious obstacle in the donation and the preserving of large collections is the shipping. I would imagine that the vast majority of donations consist largely of material the library already has.

So the library staff must sort through hundreds or thousands of items to find the few not already within the library. It must be a monumental task over time.

The surplus items can of course be resold to defray  the shipping and staff time cost but still a very effort intensive process. No one needs 25 or 30, 1951 Buick sales brochures but I suspect the library has had at least

that number pass through its hands over the years. 

A online data base of what the library already has might some day help guide would be donations and prevent the unnecessary task of dealing with duplicate material. Unless of course  revenue from surplus sales is actually 

paying proposition.

 

Greg

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The flip side of open free public access is that the collections,  either in private hands  or public hands (Detroit Public Library),  or the AACA Library have a value right up until they are openly published on the Internet.

 

 

 

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Interesting discussion.  As to Bob's question:  We have little time to indicate on every document donated to us who gave it to us but we do and will have signage about the collections we own and who the donors were as in the 3,000 plus William T. Gerrard Class Car Collection, The Charles Schalebaum Collection, etc.

 

As to duplicates, if we get them our librarians try to keep the best copy and sell the other copy.  This helps in a small way to pay the library expenses.

 

As to shipping, no issue really, if the collection is that worthwhile and helps our mission then we haul it by a variety of means.  We had a full tractor trailer load come to us from Oregon and we paid the bill.  We had pods delivered and we have taken trailers to pick up materials.  We do NOT make a donor pay for shipping if he cannot afford it but we are choosey what we accept.

 

As to value,  the view of AACA and our staff is that we are here to benefit the hobby, not increase our value.  It is what it is, if we do not make it available then we are simply a warehouse and that is NOT our goal.  The value for a 501 C 3 is a entirely different story than for a for-profit.  The value to us is being of service to those that need it.  History needs to be shared, not hoarded.

 

I'm doing a lot of speaking for our library as I am very passionate about what our great staff does.  I am simply a supporter to Chris, Mike and Matt and our organization.

 

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Well stated Steve, it makes it a bit clearer to all how donations work and what it takes to get them in place in the library and then available to be looked at for information. I am involved with my state ( NY) history as I am also the appointed Historian for the village I reside in for many decades. Some state laws say you have to have a historian for certain types of municipalities. Certain guide lines for the 503 C 3 donation status have to be followed and each state has similar but different guidelines for societies, clubs, etc that are deemed viable historical preservation groups. This is not just "get the title and do what you think is best and fair".  All the individual needs that have been stated here are important to the particular person, but when you are dealing with donated or purchased material that is of historic value and will seek funds ( be it by grant, donations from organizations or individual, from estates, etc) it is a whole different set of rules that may apply.  

I see a lot of people here assuming they know what is correct - not so in every case, even when something seems to be set in stone as what you can do, it may change. Grant money is great but has to be used for a specific purpose and within a certain amount of time . Even storage of historic material that need to be placed in acid free folders, boxes, envelopes etc has to be considered and where to find exactly what you need for the best price. Putting a period poster on display is great but does the "glass" you mount it behind ( on acid free archival paper) have an ultraviolet light capability that will not see the object on display fade with sun and artificial light? My background is varied, from being an art teacher , exhibits technician for a museum, historian, to taking courses in preservation of paper etc. All this is being considered by the AACA and its library. It is not just all about finding for  you and providing you with what you need to restore your car or write your article without the need for you to travel to Hershey, Pa.

Let's all give the staff at headquarters some room to make the move to the new building, get set up, and once established get used to where everything is etc.

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At the end of a normal workweek (not applicable to me, I'm retired) it is very encouraging to see thoughtful and informative posts on this topic.  An early posting put 11 separate, mostly related issue up for discussion. Much to absorb!

I'm interested in getting thoughts on #6 - avoiding duplication of digitization projects.  I suspect there is no coordination between libraries, museums or collections to avoid digitizing Motor Trend, Hot Rod, Road & Track etc. more than once - assuming to accepted standards.  Personally, I prefer to have access to the actual magazines, but I would love to "page through" the first issues if/when they are available.  

Background - my involvement in this aspect of auto history dates to 2006.  A local auto auto enthusiast, now deceased, scanned many volumes of Competition Press, Motor Sports World, West Coast Sports Car Journal and MotoRacing, put them on two CDs and gave them away.  The PDFs are "image only", not recognized text, but still a great asset!  Bob Norton should be remembered for his work!

 

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On 5/20/2020 at 1:27 PM, Steve Moskowitz said:

THREE librarians with their Masters' degree in Library Science.  Added the purchase of the Philly library and the numerous other collections we house for other car clubs and you have what we believe will be largest  free library dedicated to the automobile in the US.  

 

Very encouraging !

 

However,  for those of us (as jvolgarino has pointed out) who cannot travel long distances on a consistent basis to gain access to the materials, how are the leadership discussing moving forward with broader access to a digital library? If you can elaborate on it...if not, we understand. 

 

As a researcher I'd gladly pay a fee to have more user friendly access than what is currently available to the public. 

 

Here is his previous statement that I don't believe was addressed.

 

On 5/20/2020 at 1:43 PM, jvolgarino said:

The new AACA library is exciting and I hope someday to have the opportunity to fly out and visit. But that is part of the problem...access. We here in the heartland can't always just pick up and fly to the coast when we want to research something and paying someone else to find that one piece of information we'd like to find sometimes is not workable, particularly if you are writing on deadline and really have no budget for such things.

 

 

The area I've highlighted in bold is important to us researchers because it may have taken us years to know what we are looking for. However, relaying that to someone else over the phone or in email who may not be familiar with what we are looking for is awkward and time consuming on everyone's part. That element alone is what I believe has caused this topic of discussion (digitized library) for years. 

 

Just a thought, you have three librarians with masters degrees... Maybe one can think of a way to make the system more digitized and user friendly ? Not trying to be a wise guy, just an honest question. 

Thanks for anything you can share with us.

Edited by 30DodgePanel (see edit history)

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So, I am not a librarian but I do know that the new system which is a $40,000 plus investment will allow a lot of our holdings to be searched in the same manner as Google.  So instead of having to have the name of the book, author, etc. you can get a better search result.  I am sure there is much more to the system.  It should be very friendly.  It might even say hello!

 

Once we are in the new library and have things up and running staff and volunteers will be redoubling their digitization efforts to allow even further access.  However, as someone who has done a little research in his life and has watched many authors, writers and historians come to the library and spends days and even weeks researching there is still no substitute for doing your own work with the vast holdings we have here.  There is too much to find.  We recently had a team of people here doing research and it was a eureka moment every hour or so as they found obscure info that we would never know  to look for as the researcher has a much better idea of his or her needs.

 

At some point, there is an element of personal responsibility to do the research or to pay to have it done if that is the only option.  We will not have 3,000,000 items scanned and available in my lifetime!  However, our library will be doing more than any such operation of its kind in the country to make material available and for free.  We will be doing the best we can with our resources.

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1 hour ago, Steve Moskowitz said:

So, I am not a librarian .......

........We will not have 3,000,000 items scanned and available in my lifetime!  However, our library will be doing more than any such operation of its kind in the country to make material available and for free.  We will be doing the best we can with our resources.

We appreciate and are amazed with all of the effort the staff has put into this move/project. I personally don’t think that effort has been acknowledged enough so please pass my thanks and congratulations on an amazing accomplishment  

dave s 

 

edit- even though you are a Bears fan. Lol

Edited by SC38DLS (see edit history)
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