After 18 months in storage, The Mariners' Museum's massive archives are open — mostly
By DENISE WATSON | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: June 24, 2018
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Maritime history buffs rejoice.
After being closed for almost two years, The Mariners’ Museum Library will re-open Monday to take public research requests.
The library – one of the largest in the western hemisphere – had been housed temporarily at Christopher Newport University and went into storage in 2016 to move back to the museum.
It has more than 2 million items, including nearly 110,000 rare books dating to the 16th century, maps, charts, and the mother lode of almost everything related to the popular Chris-Craft boat manufacturer. The expanded area at the museum is a temporary spot for the archives, but at least 90 percent of the collection can now be accessed by staff.
Jay Moore, library archivist, said it has been heartbreaking to not be able to help people find their grandfather’s old Navy photo or the original plans for an old boat they are trying to restore.
One man, Moore said, was worried that he would die before the archives would open again and help him.
“I just want to get my hands on it,” Moore said of the archives, which were still being organized last week.
“It’s very heartening to be able to help people again.”
The Mariners’ Museum started out in 1930 as a museum and a library. It expanded during the decades as a place to visit its 550-acre park, trails and lakes. In 1987, it was named the repository for the Monitor Collection, more than 210 tons of artifacts, including the turret, from the Civil War ironclad.
In 1999, U.S. Congress designated Mariners’ as one of only two maritime facilities to comprise America’s National Maritime Museum.
It was also stocking its archives: More than 850,000 photographs, shipping lists and books dealing with the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, boat plans, manuals, and samples of wood and upholstery for those who want to restore historic boats to their original glory.
Moore said they would get an average of three to four calls a week just about Chris-Craft boat manuals and plans.
A few years ago, staff realized that the library had outgrown its space at the Mariners, and it collaborated with nearby CNU to move the collection to a new facility on campus. Several visitors complained, however, about trouble finding parking on campus, and the staff had its own difficulties working in two locations.
“It functioned very well, but it made some things pretty hard,” Moore said. Transporting rare items in the back of vehicles being one of them.
The museum renovated a gallery space to hold the collection, but there is no place for a public reading room to go over documents. Staffers will take and fill out requests for a fee.
Moore said the hope is to have a new facility in three to five years.
“It’s plain to everyone that we cannot fully support our research mission to give guests and patrons access to do their own work with the collections.”
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