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Looking at the Big Picture:

Preserving the UNIQUE Photograph CollectionS
AT The Appalachian Mountain Club

Camp Party at the Perch, Mount Adams, NH, 1893.

The caption reads: “Camp Party at the Perch, Mount Adams, NH, 1893.” But this image is even more intriguing when you learn that “The Perch” got its name because it is precariously located on the steep north face of Mount Adams, just below tree line at about 4,300 feet – and that this adventurous (and well-dressed!) party undertook a three and a half hour hike to get there in July of 1893. 

This is just one of the thousands of photographs in the collection of the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Library and Archives at the organization’s headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts. The wide ranging collection serves to illustrate the history of the art of hiking, camping, paddling, snowshoeing, and other outdoor activities, and consists of over 20,000 images covering the 1870’s to the present, including prints, transparencies, lanterns slides, postcards, and stereograph cards. 

About the Appalachian Mountain Club Library and Archives

Rescue via Mt. Washington Carriage Road, 1910Founded in 1876, the Appalachian Mountain Club promotes the protection, enjoyment, and understanding of the mountains, forests, waters, and trails of America’s Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.  The AMC offers advice, guidebooks, maps, and unique lodges and huts for hikers. Members have the opportunity to support the AMC’s conservation advocacy and research, youth programming, and work maintaining 1,800 miles of trails.

In addition to photographs, the AMC Library and Archives also holds climbing journals, scrapbooks, films, memorabilia, and early maps. Logbooks that are no longer sound enough to reside in AMC's historic White Mountain huts can be found here, recording the thoughts and feelings of mountain travelers from decades past. The Library holds a collection of over 3,000 books, including over 500 volumes on the White Mountains of New Hampshire, one of the largest White Mountain rare book collections in the world. 

One of the centerpieces of the Archives’ holdings are the photographs of Vittorio Sella (1859-1943), an Italian photographer and mountaineer, who took photographs of mountains which are regarded as some of the finest ever made. Sella’s photographs capture the images of monumental mountains and were created using oversize glass plate negatives. Ansel Adams once said that Vittorio Sella’s photographs inspired “religious awe.”

The AMC Photograph Collection Assessment – The Big Picture

NEDCC’s Senior Photograph Conservator Monique Fischer met with Librarian and Archivist Becky Fullerton in April 2010 to conduct a collection-level assessment of the AMC photographs. The assessment was funded by a Preservation Assistance Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mount Webster from Mount Avalon, NH, February 22, 1909A collection assessment and resulting detailed report provide a look at the ‘big picture’ of what need to be done to preserve a collection like this one.  An assessment is beneficial for photographs, since the formats, processes, and media can vary widely across a collection, and each of their differing preservation needs require careful consideration.

The goals for the collection assessment included:

  • surveying the storage conditions
  • developing a long-range preservation plan
  • improving collections care and handling
  • stabilizing the photograph collection
  • providing a tool for future conservation planning and fundraising

The assessment also considered a wide range of issues, such as collection management policies, intellectual control and cataloguing, monitoring climate, emergency preparedness, and general storage concerns.  The comprehensive report provided recommendations for the care of the collections and preventive maintenance actions as well as conservation treatment options.

The NEDCC Assessment  Report’s Recommended Priorities for the AMC Photo Collection:

  • Improve climate control
  • Provide cold storage for color photographs and film
  • Improve housing and shelving
  • Improve accessibility to researchers and the public
  • Provide adequate staffing to move forward with priorities

A collection assessment and resulting detailed report provide a look at the ‘big picture’ of what needs to be done to ensure the preservation of a collection like the AMC's unique photographs.

Progress!

Archivist Becky Fullerton credits the assessment with helping to focus the AMC’s attention on the needs of their unique photographs. The assessment report has aided in securing grants for SIX projects to date, including funding for cold storage, an adequate air conditioner for the archives, climate control monitoring equipment, rehousing supplies, and digitization. The AMC Archives is currently researching funding to upgrade the storage furniture, replacing the wooden shelving with recommended metal units.

Over the last several years, the AMC collections have benefited from the help of interns from Boston’s Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  It’s a win/win situation: The interns gain valuable experience in working with archival collections, and their efforts have helped move the photograph rehousing initiative forward. Photographic prints are sleeved in Mylar with archival backing boards so they can be safely handled, and stored in archival boxes with adequate support.  About 35-40% of the collection has been rehoused so far.

Photographic prints are now housed in archival sleeves and boxes.The rehousing project has also offered the opportunity to complete a detailed inventory and cataloging of the photographs, often a requirement for future funding. Evidence of progress like this is a major consideration when a funder is reviewing an application.  Grant awards are always most likely to go to those organizations who have demonstrated due diligence in stewarding their collections.

“We are just going down the list in the report, ticking off the items,” comments Becky Fullerton. “Because we have improved storage conditions, we can now go to other funders who are interested in digitization and other projects.” The Archives has also secured funding for web-hosting to make the collections more accessible.   

“Our ultimate goal is to offer the whole collection online. What I want is to have people look at the online catalogue and see the depth of the collection,” Becky continues, “and to be able to use it as a resource.”

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the AMC Library and Archives; to find out about memberships, donations, and volunteer opportunities; or to start planning your own outdoor adventure, visit: The Appalachian Mountain Club, www.outdoors.org.

The Appalachian Mointain Club Library and Archives, Boston, MA

   The Library and Archives at the Appalachian Mountain Club's Headquarters in Boston, MA

 

All photographs courtesy of  the Appalachian Mountain Club
Story by Julie Martin.
Many thanks for help from AMC Archivist Becky Fullerton.