Who needs architectural postcards and books?
April 6, 2010 10:54 AM   Subscribe

My father has tremendous collections relating to architecture and music. He's also getting old enough that he's beginning to be willing to thin out the collection. What are some some resources that I can steer him towards?

The collections are books, postcards, and models. For the purpose of this question, I'm gonna focus on the postcards and books.

Most of the stuff is well organized. He has filing cabinets that are organized by city with postcards of skylines, ball parks, sports arenas and famous buildings for each city. To give an idea of how extensive this collection is, Coney Island is classified separately from New York City. It includes all major and most moderate sized cities in the US and Canada. The book collection is similarly extensive and covers urban planning and large areas of Europe as well. This both of these collections have materials ranging from around the 1960's to present.

Are there architectural or city-planning focused libraries are out there that would be interested in digitally archiving the postcards? Are there specific libraries that would be more interested in the books? He lives in the Bay Area in California, I live in Philadelphia. I'd be willing to help him transport these items anywhere across the country if needed. He and I would just rather see these given as a resource than sold or thrown away.
posted by piratebowling to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Forgot to mention the music books, they include decades of the American Music Record Guide and many, many books about classical composers. Any place that would find these useful would be great. He's working on paring down his vinyl collection on his own.
posted by piratebowling at 10:56 AM on April 6, 2010

I can't help with specific sources, but to make the collection more appealing to any potential recipients, I think the first thing to do is catalogue everything in a spreadsheet, including details of condition and where/when each item was acquired. I'd personally include photos as well.

Then, research! Try to Google for similar stuff, or find them on ebay (including completed auctions) -- that'll give you a good idea of what people are willing to pay for various items. Maybe you'll turn up some good stories, or find out that some part of it is actually quite rare. If nothing else, it'll help you sell the library on the idea of the collection.
posted by lhall at 12:05 PM on April 6, 2010

You should contact universities in your area that have libraries specializing in architecture and music and invite an academic librarian to check out your collection. You and your family (and everyone else) will have access to the work and your dad will get tax deduction based on the assayed value of the collections. A family friend was able to do this as a way to preserve his letters and papers.
posted by parmanparman at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2010

For the books, and maybe some of the images, talk to the art history dept. of some local colleges. Find a professor who specifically works with architectural history.
posted by jon1270 at 12:36 PM on April 6, 2010

First port of school I would have thought would be the libraries of schools or university departments of architecture.
posted by londongeezer at 1:19 PM on April 6, 2010

Response by poster: You should contact universities in your area that have libraries specializing in architecture and music and invite an academic librarian to check out your collection.

See, maybe I didn't phrase the question well enough. I get that "universities in my area that have libraries specializing in architecture" would be a good place for the collections. I'm asking for recommendations for specific schools and libraries that would be especially likely to want postcards or a huge amount of books. I say this because I know some schools or don't necessarily have the resources to take on, archive or maintain books at the moment.

Failing that, I'm looking for a librarian's perspective of how to approach a library with this sort of offer/collection.
posted by piratebowling at 1:50 PM on April 6, 2010

Best answer: I'm looking for a librarian's perspective of how to approach a library with this sort of offer/collection.

I don't know any specific libraries but I've had friends who have worked in special collections and my Mom just donated her postcard collection to the Schlesinger Library at Harvard. The biggest caveat is that very very often the things that people think may be valuable to a library aren't. This is not me saying anything about your father's collection, just giving you an idea of what the librarian you will wind up talking to may be hearing when you first start saying "Hey my father has this collection...." Persevere.

You'll want to have a loose idea of how many items you have, the subject and data ranges, and the general condition. So "3000 mid-century photo postcards of New England organized by subject matter, in good shape" should be fine. Would be useful if you had a few scans of representative images perhaps, so that you could mail them. Do you want the postcards all saved as a set, or would you be willing to let libraries sift through them? Do you need a tax write-off from this? [my mother was thrilled with the special treatment she got from Harvard up until the time they started getting pesty with her about the appraised value of the collection and it turned into this bitchy stalemate that resulted in her saying truly crappy things about libraries and librarians, so bear in mind that this stage if you require it may be annoying]

Approach a few special collections departments, one at a time of schools and libraries you've selected [sorry, can't help you there] with what you have, what you're looking for, what you can offer [delivery sounds nice, for example] and what your timeframe is. I think for my Mom this entire process took almost a year from her initial inquiries to her final delivery/thank you letter aspect.

It might be just worth walking into your local big university library [Penn?] and talking to the Special Collections librarian there about ideas. They may not be a good place for you, but might have a much better idea of who would like something like this. Sorry I can't be more helpful. I can put your Dad in touch with my Mom if you want. MeMail me if that's at all interesting.
posted by jessamyn at 2:12 PM on April 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, Jessamyn!

I know that I may have to call quite a few places until I find a place that thinks his collection would be useful or an asset. I'll ask him how he feels about portioning off the collection, but I think that he will probably be okay with it, as it is already broken up by city.

I'm studying development right now, so I understand fully how non-profits are not keen on appraising physical objects, and I know that if he wanted an appraisal for tax purposes he'd have to hire someone himself.

Thanks for the lead with the Schlesinger. I will be talking to him tonight to see where he is on getting this stuff out.

As another follow up, I called the public library two blocks from him which is combined with the University Library. As of right now, if we donated the books (at least to the public section) they would be sold in the "Friends of the Library" shop. That is exactly the situation I'm trying to avoid.
posted by piratebowling at 2:26 PM on April 6, 2010

Best answer: Well, Upenn libraries did just get $4.25 million for a special collections center. There's a contact at the end of the notice too, with email and phone - she's listed as Director of Development.
posted by cashman at 2:36 PM on April 6, 2010

Best answer: I asked a librarian friend of mine about your dilemma, and she sent me this:

Well, here is what I found. There is a comprehensive directory that seems to be only in print. Here's the worldcat record for it: http://www.worldcat.org/title/directory-of-archives-and-manuscript-repositories-in-the-united-states/oclc/16984463. It should show you the library closest to you that owns the book.

The online directories I've seen tend to be limited, for example special collections in Iowa. Or special collections for women's studies, etc. So I'd suggest doing a Google search like this: postcards "special collections" site:edu. This will limit your search to academic institutions. Or architecture archives site:edu. Could also include the state in the search if he wants to donate them someplace local. That's the best I can come up with -- hope that helps!

And I hope it helps, too! :)
posted by wwartorff at 3:55 PM on April 7, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks all.

Of course as soon as I started showing my dad that I was doing research he seemed to get overwhelmed or have cold feet. I will definitely keep all of these things on hand because it will be something that we have to deal with eventually, and it looks like there are some good resources here.
posted by piratebowling at 1:03 PM on April 9, 2010

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