Record Collections

Bought this at Writer’s Block Bookstore in Las Vegas a few months ago and it was an enjoyable read. It’s the non-fiction adventure of a NYC woman who gets bitten by the weirdest record-collecting bug of all: the lust for ancient 78 RPM shellac. She travels the east coast, visiting big collectors, including a few featured in the Dust & Grooves book, and looking for rare sides. Forget cratedigging; she goes as far as learning how to scuba dive so she can search the murky waters of a river that ran next to a long-gone 78 manufacturing plant! While there’s lots to learn in these pages, the writing stays lively and real; this is no textbook, and you don’t have to love the genres on 78s to enjoy the tale. It’s a smart, warm book that record collectors will enjoy as much for the insights into their own mania as for the tales of successful searches and futile finds.

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Last week, at the Chicago Public Library’s Harold Washington Library Center, librarian Bob Sloane alerted me to the news that the Visual and Performing Arts Department was getting rid of all of the cards in their old card catalogs. I didn’t really think there was anything major I’d want to take, but I decided to stop in yesterday just to be sure.

I looked through the cards for the library’s record collection and sheet music collection and a few other areas of interest, but didn’t feel like these would be crucial to save. At least, not for me. Then, the very last thing I saw, was the separate section of drawers for the Picture Collection Subject Headings.
If you have known Public Collectors for a while, you know that I loved the library’s Picture Collection. It consisted of hundreds of thousands of clipped photos from books and magazines, sorted into over 10,000 subjects. About a year ago the library made a fairly fast decision to get rid of almost the entire collection. Most of it went into a dumpster.

What I have saved is, for me, almost better than the photos themselves. The subject headings alone are pretty incredible, as they function as a kind of umbrella for nearly anything in the visual world you can imagine. Hate Groups? Yep. Ice Fishing? Sure. Hayrides, Guyana, Immigrants, Door Knockers, Lemons, Thailand, etc. etc. It’s all there.

With help from Bob Sloane and Megs Morley, I took home about 65 pounds of cards this afternoon and will pick up the remaining suitcase-full in the morning tomorrow. I’m so grateful to Bob for alerting me to this, and to Megs for helping rubber band and sort everything with me. Megs is visiting from Ireland for a residency at the Hyde Park Art Center and we just planned on getting coffee and sandwiches a block from the library. On a bit of a whim, she decided to come along and got to partake in some archive moving fun for an hour or so. This was way beyond our initial plans but it was a very enjoyable group activity.

I haven’t decided what I’ll do with all of the cards just yet, but I know they will be fuel for some kind of future project. They are amazing, and I feel very honored to be their caretaker. Probably at least 60 years of work went into typing and building this collection of cards. I hope that I’ll be able to extend their history in some new ways, even if their future use could be very different from their original function.

I will start posting some of the cards I’ve scanned so far, but these really deserve a larger proect at some point. Here is an essay I wrote about the Picture Collection in 2003.

Can’t decide which one to listen too ;; #poppunkproblems