The following is a guest post by Ryan Brubacher, Reference Librarian, and Emma Esperon, Archivist, Prints & Photographs Division.
We’re proud to welcome the Slides from the Eames Collection inventory to an online and searchable platform to help researchers discover descriptions of materials they didn’t even know they were looking for! The slides by noted designers Charles and Ray Eames include views of everything you can imagine, covering the 1964 New York World’s Fair, birthday party scenes, close-ups of flowers, furniture, clowns, cars, buildings, friends, rooms, meadows, movie shoots, people at the beach, and actual insect wings.
It’s been a long road to get to this point and to help you celebrate with us, we’d like to tell the story of the Eames Slides. The slides constitute one of the largest discrete sets of material from the Work of Charles and Ray Eames in the Prints & Photographs Division. While only a “small” section of the one million item collection in P&P, the 35mm slides weigh in at 300,000 items and depict much of Charles and Ray Eames’s work. Until now, the public has been able to access an internally circulated inventory by working with reference librarians and arranging to view the material. A huge achievement this year was to make an online finding aid for the slide collection that is searchable from home. Once you find listings of interest, you can contact reference staff to view them (at this point, only a fraction of the slides are digitized, generally as researchers have purchased reproductions).
The slides have a long history even before coming to the Library of Congress, and understanding it was important for arranging and describing the collection. In the Eames Office in Venice, California, the slides were constantly being added to and were used as both reference material and for publications, films, slideshows and documentation.
After the completion of a building addition in Winter 1969/1970, the slides were moved and newly arranged on the ground floor of the new space. This new location, adjacent to the New Building Shooting Area and Editing Room is where the slides were arranged before coming to the Library of Congress. The slides are arranged according to 83 different project names assigned by the Eames Office. Using a grid of cubbyholes, looking much like mailbox slots, the office used location codes to find and refile slides. The location codes included the Area (Slide Library was 19), Bay (upper case letters), Column (numbered 1-? in each Bay), and Row (lowercase letters a-?). An example of a complete cubby number would be 19K2b.
The majority of slides are unmarked and there are numerous examples of duplication — within boxes, between boxes within projects, and between projects. Some slide mounts include annotations and slides used for slide show projects were also often heavily stickered.
There were also sometimes tab dividers in the slide boxes with additional handwritten details. Slides in the boxes at the office were organized chronologically from back to front. Later in the 1970s and into the 1980s, slide inventory sheets were created and stored folded up in some boxes. Before the creation of these limited inventories, the physical storage of the collection was key for Eames Office Staff, who would consult a chronological list of projects to find the Bay and vertical Column, or browse a category index to find the location of boxes for a project and any sub-groups.
When first assessing the Eames Slide Collection, the Library of Congress decided to keep the New Building cubby storage order. But how could we retain the cubby organization while replacing the cubbies with archival slide boxes in standard library storage conditions? During the preparatory stage in California, Eames Staff and Library of Congress employees worked together to record information about the box locations, the tabbed details, and descriptions in both hand written and typed slide box inventories to create a massive database. Once the collection arrived at the Library of Congress, Library interns, Junior Fellows, and Library staff enhanced and expanded the database as the collection was processed. This was a multiyear project as the slides in each project category could range from as few as 200 slides to as many as 10,000 slides. We physically numbered all 300,000 slides in their paper, plastic and metal mounts and rehoused them in archival boxes.
Last fall we started to interpret the data, imagining what an online finding aid would look like, what information would be most helpful to the researchers, and what not so helpful. We needed to translate project-based cubbies to project-based codes, and link those back to the new archival housing, along the way also trying to figure out how to handle anomalies, slides that were misfiled, the mysterious asterisk in the original inventories, and descriptions that didn’t quite line up. We also wondered daily, how can we describe the organization so that researchers can accurately and reliably ask for what they needed and not spend all of their research time going through irrelevant slides or tripping through a 1,293 page finding aid? (Don’t try to print that from home!) While there are still plenty of questions left, we’ve succeeded in creating an online, publically accessible tool to search and browse. And we hope you enjoy it too!
A favorite sentence from the Eames procedures notebooks, “[Good slides’] locations must be learned and their existence kept in mind as good sources of the best slides of a variety of subjects,” is a haunting command from the past to our present librarian selves.
- Search by keyword in the online finding aid, or browse within the finding aid by project.
- Sample Eames slides that have been digitized–the results of a search n the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog for Eames and the code for Eames slides, LC-E14. (The images show only at thumbnail size because of rights considerations.)
- Read more about the entire Eames collection in the Work of Charles and Ray Eames overview. (Mammoth as the collection is in P&P, there’s still more to explore! Documentation of the Eames’s work in other formats are also found in the Manuscript Division [view the finding aid] and in the Moving Image Research Center, Motion Picture, Broadcasting, and Recorded Sound Division.)
- There are quite a few slide collections relating to architecture and design in the Prints & Photographs Division, so it may not be altogether a detour to tour the John Margolies Roadside America Archive. Read about the archive in the collection overview.
… could have been even better than “We’re looking at slides of people looking at slides.” :
“you’re looking at a photograph of people looking at slides of people looking at slides!”
now THAT’s meta!