The appointment was officially set – I was very excited! I had been to Sherman Gardens many times, and I had even seen the library sign. I was intrigued by the library, but I never seemed to be in the neighborhood when the libraries were open. That’s a mistake I hope to mitigate in the future!
At the appointed time, I rang the doorbell at the entrance, and sneaked a peak through the open window in the top of the door. To my surprise, I could see a beautiful courtyard, surrounded by offices and what appeared to be the library stacks. When the door opened (actually, when the two doors opened), I was greeted by a welcoming woman who acknowledged my appointment and invited us in. The interior of the building is no less beautiful. My eyes were immediately drawn to the old banker-style desks, which were ironically equipped with modern computers. I spotted a set of wooden library catalogs, tables and chairs poised to accommodate readers and researchers. In the midst of this, I saw exhibit cases filled with historical artifacts that were carefully preserved and selected for display.
The library was built effectively around the courtyard. This architecture allowed natural light in (although not directly on the collections), which made the library feel very welcoming. The configuration of the building allowed for a reading room, staff offices, collections, and a conference room. The next step in the tour was an introduction to the life and legacy of Moses Hazelton Sherman (the library’s namesake, 1853 – 1932), Arnold Haskell (the library founder, 1895-1977), and the Sherman family. The amazing story spans education, banking, real estate, mining, water rights, railroads, militia, and much more. Sherman’s professional adventures took him and his family to Vermont, New York, Arizona, Nevada, California and Hawaii. The coincidences of history placed “General Sherman” in the midst of the Los Angeles Water Wars, Hollywoodland sign, LA Pacific Railroad, San Francisco earthquake, and Sherman Oaks.
The archival collections are vast. They include artifacts related to the life and work of General Shermann, Arnold Haskell, and Otto Freeman Brandt (Bernal, 2016). This is only the beginning of the archive, which covers the history of the Pacific Southwest (Sherman Library Collections and Guide). The archives are open to the public. The audience is primarily historians and individuals interested in the history of General Sherman, Arnold Haskell, Otto Freeman Brandt, or the local area. It is clear that the library provides programming for younger children as well, as witnessed by the gnome garden and children’s reading area.
The library and archives are a stand-alone organization related to the Friends of the Sherman Library and Gardens. Arnold Haskell and General Sherman’s two daughters created the foundation after General Sherman passed away. Originally called a cultural center, the Sherman Library was opened in 1966. This impressive library currently is staffed by three individuals – a director, librarian, and one additional staff member. In addition, volunteers support both the gardens and archives.
A vast majority of the collection was originally acquired through the work of Arnold Haskell. As the secretary for General Sherman, Haskell had access to all professional records and the extensive collection of print publications and artifacts. More recent acquisitions tend to be from collections of individuals who were affected by the life and work of General Sherman or Haskell. This introduces a bit of complexity in the preservation process. In some cases, the new records are exact copies. In some cases, a single transaction was recorded by an individual, and separately by an organization (i.e. for tax purposes). These records are not exact copies, but they do reflect the same information.
As the Guide to the Newport Beach Historical Collections in the Sherman Library indicates, there are a number of additional collections housed within the archive. There are historical maps, photographs, paintings, printed publications, personal papers, and a limited number of additional artifacts (i.e. clothing, silver pitchers, figurines, and more). Sherman Library staff also acquired a collection of historic photographs when the Newport Nautical Museum shuttered its doors. These photographs not only provided historical context, but they enhanced the impressive collection of art.
One of the most intriguing items I saw was a book of letters and correspondence curated by the author. To truly understand the value of this item, you must understand the process. An individual would purchase one of these books empty. They would then prepare the original document that is typed or written with water-soluble ink. When ready, they would take the empty book, moisten the back side of a page, place the document behind the moistened page, and press the book page onto the original document. An impression of the original document would then be added to the book. This becomes a mechanism for the original author to curate a collection of documents for long term archiving.
Like many archives, the Sherman Library faces resource challenges, both in terms of funding and staffing. The backlog of material that needs to be processed is significant. The unprocessed materials are carefully stored, but they must be carefully preserved and researched to ensure accurate metadata. The processing area is contained in the climate-controlled basement. As you walk down the stairs, you see beautiful pieces of framed, historic art.
The processing area is nearly full to capacity with materials that are boxed and organized into compact shelving. In addition, there are multiple map cases, stacks of rolled maps, blueprints and more. The processing space has a large table on which the staff work. They have access to a scanner, which is used to digitize materials based on archiving best practices. Perhaps the most interesting element of the processing area is a set of silver pitchers, which commemorates the significant contribution of General Sherman during the San Francisco earthquake. It is clear that there are treasures in this archive, and in the backlog of materials ready to be processed.
The Sherman Library archive is truly inspirational! Being in the physical space and exploring the collections brought an appreciation of the value of the archive, and the potential for individuals to make a difference. The Sherman Library is indeed a bridge between the storied past and the potential-rich present to build to an impressive future.
Bernal, V. (2016, May 04). Sherman Library and Gardens: Finding L.A. History in Newport Beach. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://www.kcet.org/shows/lost-la/sherman-library-and-gardens-finding-la-history-in-newport-beach
Guide to Newport Beach Historical Collections in Historical Collections in Sherman Library. (2016). Retrieved February 08, 2018, from http://www.slgardens.org/Finding%20Aids/Guide%20to%20Newport%20Beach%20Historical%20Collections%20-%20web.pdf
Library Archive Interview [Personal interview]. (2018, February 8).
Sherman Library Archival Collections. (n.d.). Retrieved February 08, 2018, from http://www.slgardens.org/archival_collections_orgs
Additional Reading and Information
A Community Icon Turns 50: With a fascinating past and a revered present, Sherman Library and Gardens looks to the future
Online Archive of California (OAC): Sherman Library and Gardens
Russo, S. S. (2008). The library as place in California. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co.
See Chapter 6: Sherman Library and Gardens