Finding Architectural Documentation—a New Reference Aid Points the Way!

Miss Mary Louise Long of Chicago and John Staley of Maryland look up drawings in the files at the landscape architecture building at Iowa State College. Ames, Iowa. Photograph by Jack Delano, 1942 May. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d04328

Institutions have long collected and stored architectural documentation, as this 1942 photograph for the Office of War Information suggests. Miss Mary Louise Long of Chicago and John Staley of Maryland look up drawings in the files at the landscape architecture building at Iowa State College. Ames, Iowa. Photograph by Jack Delano, 1942 May. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d04328

Among the hardest questions we receive is “Where in the world are the architectural drawings for [fill in the site]?” or “Where are the drawings by architect [fill in the name]?” Although we can establish whether we hold the needed drawings in our collections, discerning the location of drawings not in our holdings has always been a challenge.

In handling such questions, we continue to consult a set of tools compiled over multiple generations. The tools are the products of dedicated collaboration among repositories, but none is entirely comprehensive.  Moreover, we’re always conscious that the inability to discover a reference to the needed materials might either be because they remain unlisted or because they don’t remain at all. Many drawings were simply not saved.

For years we dreamed of coming up with a “pathfinder” to help researchers in their quests for architectural documentation and for information on how to understand and use that type of documentation effectively, but coming up with an understandable list among the ever-changing tools proved challenging.

As we looked into it more recently, we realized that other institutions were, likewise, receiving those hard “where in the world” questions and were helping to provide guidance. We are pleased now to be able to point people to the helpful guidance of others, as well as to mention sources we have found useful. A new reference aid with the hefty title Finding Architectural Documentation Online: Selected Listings of Research Guides, Archival Resources, and Scholarly Articles & Dissertations does just that. It was compiled by reference specialist Marilyn Ibach, who has fielded many a “where in the world” query. As Marilyn notes, “It’s never easy to locate elusive documentation, and we can all use help in knowing generally where to start. Sometimes the information you learn along the way makes the hunt all the more worthwhile!”

Using the Finding Architectural Documentation Online reference aid. Photo by Barbara Natanson, 2016.

Reference assistant Julie Stoner using the Finding Architectural Documentation Online reference aid. Photo by Barbara Natanson, 2016.

Just as no single tool yet lists all the architectural documentation extant in the world, our list is necessarily selective. It can grow, however, as valuable new resources surface. If you know of an important tool or Web site that helps researchers locate documentation on the built environment, please let us know through comments or send us a message through Ask a Librarian.

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One Comment

  1. joe
    May 5, 2016 at 2:11 am

    Interesting read, thought provoking

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