Monday, December 26, 2016

Answer: Searching for the place where things should be

Where should things go?

Ann Folsom wrote in asking how to find a good (best?) place for your collection of possibly historically useful artifacts.  I condensed her questions in these two:  

1.  How do you find the "best" place for your collection of artifacts from another time?  Is there a strategy to match your collection with an interested buyer / acquirer?   That is, how would you find a good home for your collection?  

2.  If you're searching for archival materials to acquire, what's a good strategy for finding them?  (As an example, what's the best way to find archival piano rolls to acquire? How about old oak library card catalogs?)

Several Regular Readers wrote in with great advice which I condense below (with a couple of my own observations).   

Judith pointed out that nearly every place has a local historical society. A quick search for your town or county's name will often reveal organizations that you didn't know about.  Check in with them.  Here's an example for my town: 

     [ Palo Alto historical society ] 

This quick search shows me that there are 4 organizations that might well be interested in your collection.  

Remember to also check in with your local library. Many libraries have local archive collections.  If you've got old photos or newspapers, be sure to check with them.  

As Deb and Anne pointed out, you might want to check places that have a national scope if your collection might be of broader interest.  Their story of a friend taking audio tapes of NPR broadcasts to the Library of Congress (for their Archive of American Broadcasting) is a great story.  

They also point out that you might want to search for different destinations depending on the media format.  Almost every place will take photos, but not every place wants (or can handle) audio tapes, 16 mm film, 78 RPM records, laser disks, or (zounds!) piano rolls.  Be sure to do a query like this one: 

     [ archive recorded sound ]    or...    [ archive piano rolls ] 

Consider libraries, archives, museums, historical societies...and in particular, ones that have the ability to handle the kind of media object you have.  For instance, near to where I live the USGS has a wonderful map library in Menlo Park with a dedicated page for donations of old maps and land-use images.  

Jon reminds us that searching for a generalization of the topic is a great search strategy.  He didn't just search for "piano roll" but for a more general term, "player piano."  Don't get locked into a particular term when doing your searches.  

But he also correctly cautions that sometimes it really is tough to find anyone interested in your collection. Don't take it personally if you can't find a library to accept your fantastic collection of Victorian-era antimacassars.  (But consider searching for alternate generalizations of the key idea, such as [ Victorian era furniture collection ] 

Steve also tells us that while talking to a local historical society is a great idea, spend some time looking for a professional archivist:  many universities and larger colleges have at least one (usually hiding in the library).  

Many libraries have excellent collections of things you might not expect.  For instance, the UCSB library has a famous collection of cylinder recordings, and an deep collection of digitized records -- the detailed metadata can make for fun searching of songs.  (My favorite: American Cakewalk, played on the accordion in 1906.)  

Lastly, don't forget that great frictionless supply/demand service, eBay.  If you can find the items in your collection there, you've got a good sense for (a) whether anyone else finds it interesting, and (b) other terms to describe your object. 

Here's a look at eBay's suggestions list: 

They have an entire category of "Vintage Musical Instruments" (which might be a handy search term as you look for museums and libraries), as well as other terms you might not know.  

I learned that  "QRS," "Ampico," and "Duo-Art" are companies that used to make piano rolls.  I also see the term "player piano," which is the generalization that Jon found!  

Search Lessons

Let me summarize these in a quick list: 

1. Search for local libraries, historical societies, and museums. Search for these at both city and county levels (and if your collection is great, at state or national levels). 

2. Search for places that specialize in your particular object.  Not every place can handle every kind of thing.  If you've got an audio recording or old computer, search for institutions that specialize in that kind of thing. 

3. Seek out your local librarian and/or archivist.  They often have lots of connections that are difficult to find through regular web search.  

4. Look for archivist mailing lists that might connect you with the larger set of interested people.  For instance, has a number of private and public mailing lists.  Check them out as well.  

5.  Remember the amazingness of eBay.  That's a quick reality check for the value of your collection.  It can also be a source of ideas about other search terms and places where you could potentially sell your collection.  (Or buy even more!)  

Search on!