Re: NYC archives and the Western Reserve HS

Schuyler Larrabee

Tim's put me on the hot spot to respond to this, I guess.

The ELHS (including a lot of DL&W and some NYS&W material) WAS at the U of Akron. We were there for
over ten years. We were obliged to leave there because, among other things, our archive was the
most frequently accessed collection there. It seems that they did not want to have to deal with
people coming in all the time to look at stuff. Go figure.

After looking closely at at least five serious alternatives, and a couple of wishin' & hopin'
options, including Steamtown, we ultimately settled on Cleveland State University. CSU presently
hosts the ELHS, NKPH&TS, and the records for the CUT; I'm not sure if there is a "society" involved
with CUT or not, but ALL of the records are there. One could build CUT again with the records

A couple of key points. ELHS did not GIVE the material to CSU. We retain ownership of it. The
only way it goes to CSU is if the ELHS folds, which in the long term is, I suppose, a possibility.
That is addressed in our agreement with CSU. Recently, however, we have been growing, in contrast
to a lot of other groups. IIRC, NKPH&TS also retained ownership of their materials. And the
Archive there is run by a rail-friendly curator.

Culling a collection may not be a bad thing. The ELHS has a number of ledger books which are of no
use, as no one can deduce what they represent. We also don't really know where they came from. We
have had them for over 15 years, with no insights in that time. They will be disposed of shortly.
There are also a substantial number of duplicate items, which we will reduce. Those items will be
offered for sale to ELHS members, first, and later perhaps to the general public. We have a program
to scan virtually all 2d items so as to make them accessible in digital form. The entire Val Map
collection of the ERIE (the original series from approximately 1914) has been scanned and will be
available as soon as we figure out a viable scheme for fulfilling orders, which is more complex than
you might think. DL&W maps are in process.

Steamtown was a very appealing option, but we could not retain ownership there. It would become
property of the Federal Government, with no assurances that it would permanently be on view and
accessible. And given that the NPS is at best ambivalent about Steamtown, with continuous budget
cuts at the NPS, IMHO, Steamtown's long term viability is less than 100% secure.

If NYCHS has >>given<< the material to CWR University, I consider that an error of the first
magnitude. Perhaps they were essentially forced to do so based on the exigencies of maintaining the
material in storage, but IMHO they should have striven for an agreement such as ours. If university
personnel are doing the culling, that is cause for concern. Contemporary archivists tend toward a
desire to record the history of the people involved in 19th and 20th century railroading, and not so
much (or at all) the hardware that made it all go. And this list is about hardware.


I vaguely recall the Erie archives (or some of it) is at
the University of Akron (?) Ohio. Maybe some NYC fans in the
Cleveland area could see about relocating the NYC archives?

At 7/13/2009 02:22 PM Monday, you wrote:
Eric Hansmann wrote:
A wider Google search brought news of layoffs there. This story from
two weeks ago:

The scary part of the Plain Dealer story is the line, ". . . the
society is also culling parts of its vast collection . . ." and we
have to hope that the railroad parts are not considered expendable.
Additional point: many railroad historical societies, in
donating materials to some archive, have been careful to arrange a
"right of first refusal" in case said archive decides to de-access all
or part of the material they donated. Absent this, the archive is free
to do what it likes with the material, once donated. Hopefully the
NYCHS is among those who took this prudent step.

Tony Thompson

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