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The Big Move: Discoveries while Temporarily Relocating Our History Collection

3 Apr

You may have noticed some changes in the local history department this month! If you’ve been up on the second floor, you’ve likely seen that the cages in the Sinatra Room are all empty for the time being. Don’t worry, we’re not getting rid of the history collection – we’re just boxing it all up to keep it safe during some renovations to the building! I couldn’t be more excited about it because I love when historic buildings are restored. It follows along with my field’s mission of historic preservation – I can’t imagine any archivist would be upset about this, even when they have to pack fifty boxes worth of books up to temporarily put them in storage. That admittedly was a lot of work, but it was incredibly important that I did so both to protect the collection and learn more about what we had in that cabinet. I only started working here in May of 2018, so familiarizing myself with the collection has been one of my top priorities, and the best way to do that is to work with it hands-on and see each item myself. This process, naturally, has led to some pretty cool finds, and I’d like to share those with you this month.

We’ll start with some actual library history: before card catalogues existed, how did patrons know what the library’s holdings were? Those holdings were printed in actual catalogue books! A few of those books belonging to our very own Hoboken Public Library have survived in our collection, and once they’re unpacked again you’ll be able to view them here. The especially interesting part is that they’re not just in English – due to Hoboken’s large German-speaking population around the turn of the century, we have a German-language catalogue of the library’s holdings as well!

Or maybe you’re more like me and you have an overly-specific, undergraduate degree in a four-year period in American history. If that’s the case – or if you’re just into the American Civil War – we have a two-volume set of books that provides a complete listing of every New Jersey soldier who served during the conflict by unit. I immediately utilized these upon finding them to look up the records of the individual soldier who had been the subject of my undergraduate thesis at Gettysburg College, where I minored in Civil War Era Studies.  This is a particularly amazing research resource and I fully intend to digitize it completely once the collection is resettled.

Civil War NJ

Baseball history? Yeah, we’ve got plenty of that!

BookofBaseball

New Jersey history? Check!

Houses NJ

You name it, we might just have it if it is relevant to Hoboken or New Jersey history!

When I packed everything up, I made a full inventory of exactly what we have in the book collection, which you’ll hopefully be able to find on our website within the next few months as I reorganize everything after we’re done with the second floor renovations. There’ll hopefully be something on that list that piques your interest – and as long as you make an appointment to view it, you can take a look at it in person! In the meantime, thanks for being patient with us as we temporarily store everything to keep it safe! (I apologize for any noise I made in the reading room as I was packing boxes.) We’ll be back to normal soon, so stay tuned for more history!   And of course even if some of our physical items are in storage, you can still access some of our collection online.

Written by:
Steph Diorio
Local History Librarian/Archivist at the Hoboken Public Library

Preserving the Historic Landscape of NJ: The Walker Atlas at the Hoboken Public Library

20 Feb

Greetings from the local history department at Hoboken Library! I’ve been hard at work preserving some of our most delicate items before we begin upcoming library renovations, and I’d like to highlight one in particular this month that I’m very fond of!

In 1876, an atlas of Bergen County, New Jersey was produced by A.H. Walker and published by his successor, C.C. Pease, out of Reading Publishing House in Reading, PA. The Walker Atlas of Bergen County, as the book has come to be known, was only printed once, which has naturally added to its allure for collectors and historians alike. In particular, an intact Walker Atlas in good condition is a holy grail of sorts for people passionate about New Jersey history, as it provides both invaluable historical information about the development of Bergen County. Finding an intact Walker, however, is incredibly difficult due to the fact that the maps and illustrative lithographs were valued for their artistic merits and were often pilfered. Walker Atlases were frequently dismantled, their contents sold separately, often framed to be displayed as art on the wall.

When I first came on board as the local history librarian/archivist back in May of 2018, I noticed that we had a Walker Atlas in the collection. Once I was more settled in and had completed my first major project, digitizing the vertical files, I decided that my next move would be to protect the Walker Atlas that we had as best as I could before renovations, so I called in the best Walker Atlas expert I knew; the fact that he happens to be my dad should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about my family and what we’re interested in as people. Although we had a completely intact Walker, it was coming apart and the pages were incredibly brittle. Note for those of you with rare books of your own at home: keep them dry, but also keep them cool.

I wasn’t about to let this Walker take damage, and I wanted it to be in a condition that would allow it to be handled by researchers without putting it at risk. That’s where archival sleeves come in; Mylar archival sleeves act in a way similar to lamination, but they’re a lot less dangerous to the materials, as laminating exposes them to heat. Generally, archivists will tell you to avoid laminating things at all costs – instead, slide them into acid-free mylar sleeves, which are both removable (in case something better comes along) and don’t risk damaging the materials you’re protecting.

It hurt my heart to do it, but I had to remove what was left of the binding of the Walker Atlas. Sometimes the best thing you can do to preserve a book of historic importance is to take it apart, especially when it’s printed on acidic paper to begin with and the binding is falling apart on you. Once the pages were separated, I took each one and placed it in its own separate sleeve. The pages are acidic, so sleeving them separately from one another prevents them from breaking each other down more. With all 167 pages safely sleeved, I returned the dismantled but much safer atlas to its acid-free archival box, and it was good to go!

Our Walker Atlas is now available for researchers to see for themselves! If anyone is interested in viewing this amazing piece of 19th century New Jersey history, please make an appointment with the history department by emailing or calling the library and I’ll be more than happy to pull it out for you to peruse at your discretion! I’m very proud of it and I’m incredibly excited to share it with the researching public.

Stay tuned for another update from the history department next month!

Have a Hoboken History Related question?  Email us at reference @ hoboken.bccls.org

Written by:
Steph Diorio
Local History Librarian/Archivist at the Hoboken Public Library

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