The City in the Library

The City in the Library

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Exhibits from nearly eighty local archives and collections related to Los Angeles history were on display at the 5th-annual Los Angeles Archives Bazaar on Saturday, October 23. The annual event, which made its first appearance this year inside USC’s Doheny Memorial Library, offers serious researchers and casual fans alike the chance to connect with Southern California’s past through rare and archived materials.

The daylong event was hosted by the USC Libraries and presented by L.A. as Subject, a research alliance of libraries, museums, official archives, and other cultural institutions dedicated to preserving the region’s rich history. The USC Libraries are the host institution for L.A. as Subject.

A unique feature of the Archives Bazaar is that private collections are displayed alongside materials from large institutions and official archives.

David Boulé, for instance, exhibited postcards, photographic slides, and other ephemera from his personal collection, titled The Orange and the Myth of California. Boule’s collection details how the citrus fruit helped create the popular image of California as an agricultural paradise, and how the state’s boosters leveraged that image to create one of the nation’s greatest episodes of demographic and economic expansion.

In an educational session titled “Private Passion – Public Resource”, Boulé explained how collections like his can fill the gaps left in the city’s official history.

“An individual zeal and a personal focus can help not only gather materials that might otherwise be dispersed and kept out of context, but make connections that a larger institution doesn’t have the resources or time for,” he said.

With a wealth of diverse stories on display in Doheny Library’s first-floor reading rooms, panel discussions on the library’s second floor brought focus to several topics from Los Angeles history, including the legacy of aviation in the region, and the censorship muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros confronted during his brief stay in Los Angeles in 1932.

Another panel looked to the city’s future and considered the increasingly visible role blogs play in interpreting life in the City of Angels.

“Blogs have filled in the gaps left by print and broadcast,” said panelist Kevin Roderick of the news blog L.A. Observed. Those gaps include “longer, more textured feature stories about the city.”

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the bazaar, L.A. as Subject invited journalist and public radio host Patt Morrison to deliver the keynote address.

An experienced and entertaining observer of Los Angeles, Morrison authored a bestselling chronicle of the Los Angeles River and co-wrote the Angels Walk historical markers that guide walkers along a tour of Los Angeles landmarks. In her remarks, Morrison discussed the importance of libraries and other archival institutions in preserving a two-way connection between ourselves and history.

“Thanks to libraries, books, and archives, we can communicate to people who will be here long after we’re dust,” she said. In the same way, Morrison observed, an old document, whether an original copy of the Declaration of Independence or an all-but-forgotten postcard from 1910 Santa Monica, retains the power to communicate with us centuries after its creation.

Archives are especially important to a city that hasn’t always been vigilant in preserving its legacy on paper, according to Morrison.

“We’re a city that writes history like it’s on a magic slate,” she said. “Earthquakes haven’t done one-tenth the damage to L.A. history that we ourselves have done.”

At an afternoon reception for the bazaar, Dean Catherine Quinlan of the USC Libraries noted the “necessity of cooperation and collaboration among cultural-heritage and educational institutions.”

“None of us has the capacity to collect everything—and so working together is the only way we can protect the diverse histories our communities depend upon us to preserve,” Quinlan said. “L.A. as Subject is a thriving manifestation of that cooperative necessity. Large organizations work side-by-side with enthusiastic collectors in the spirit of bringing to light our region’s hidden collections. All of us at USC take our role as host institution for L.A. as Subject very seriously, and we are thrilled to help create the environment where such collaboration becomes possible.”

L.A. as Subject members also honored the late Avery Clayton at the reception. Clayton, who died last November, was executive director of the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum, which preserves one of the largest archives related to African-American history. Kenneth W. McGuire, chair of the L.A. as Subject Executive Committee, presented the first-annual Avery Clayton Memorial Award to Avery's brother Lloyd Clayton, who is also the museum's chairman; and to Larry Earl, the museum's interim executive director.

The Archives Bazaar once again provided an opportunity to exercise the USC Libraries’ thriving social media outreach program. To sample the Twitter conversation, search for the hashtag #laarchives. Visit www.laassubject.org, which includes blog and Twitter feeds from member organizations, to learn more about L.A. as Subject’s efforts to preserve and improve access to the primary sources of Southern California history.