Assembling the Diverse Stories of L.A.

USC Libraries

Assembling the Diverse Stories of L.A.

Although young for a city, Los Angeles possesses an intriguing and diverse history, which over the years has been deposited in archives across Southern California.

L.A. as Subject is a research alliance dedicated to preserving and improving access to that raw material of Los Angeles history. Much of the city’s history is preserved in libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions. Other valuable and unique collections – those that reveal the stories of neighborhoods, families, and influential Angelenos – are scattered across Southern California, curated by smaller institutions and individual enthusiasts. With an online directory of more than 250 separate collections, L.A. as Subject ensures that researchers know what materials are available, where they are located, and how to access them.

L.A. as Subject’s biggest undertaking is the annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar, a congregation of members that brings their unique collections together into one place. The event allows scholars, researchers, archivists, librarians, students, and history enthusiasts to browse the broad collections of the alliance’s members.

The 5th-annual bazaar will be held on Saturday, October 23 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. This year marks the bazaar’s debut in historic Edward L. Doheny Jr Memorial Library on the USC’s University Park Campus.

Kenneth Bicknell, digital resources librarian at the Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library and Archive, said the uniqueness of the region underscores the importance of a group like L.A. as Subject.

“I’m hoping we can leverage our collective strength to make L.A. as Subject the go-to source of L.A. history,” he explained. “In my mind, Los Angeles is a completely unique city in a number of regards, and it’s studied by people all over the world. The primary resources of member institutions really tell the story that you don’t get from textbooks.”

Member archives, for instance, are indispensible for exploring such topics as the experiences of Chinese-Americans or the mid-century disappearance of a vast metropolitan rail transit system.

Founded in 1995 as a temporary, four-year project of the Getty Research Institute, L.A. as Subject moved to the USC Libraries in 2000.

In addition to the annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar, members also meet every two months at the Archives Forum. The meetings allow members to network with others in the profession and share best practices. Held in a different location each time, the Archives Forum allows participants to see how other members’ collections are organized and observe different preservation methods.

L.A. as Subject recently launched a new technology initiative that will both enhance communication between member groups and improve public access to members’ resources. Bicknell, who is also chair of the L.A. as Subject Web and Technology Committee, said the goal is “expanding our reach to the different facets of our user community, and the community of potential users: researchers, historians, students, documentary filmmakers, and people who love Los Angeles, whether they live here or not.”

With a new website, and plans to incorporate social media sites like Flickr and YouTube to better share visual resources, L.A. as Subject hopes to better “engage with our users, and getting them to engage with themselves about the subject of Los Angeles,” Bicknell said.