This year marked the 10th anniversary of Open Archives, and for over 2 weeks in June, 15 libraries and archives in Cambridge opened their doors to the public to show off selected items from their collections – all for free.
Folks who were unable to attend Open Archives might wonder: what is Open Archives, and what does it mean?
Cambridge Open Archives, sometimes called the Cambridge archives crawl, is a free event in which members of the public are invited behind the scenes at various Cambridge archives, libraries, and collecting institutions. It is a fun way to promote the unique collections of our city’s wonderful archives, while also raising awareness of historic materials, larger historic themes, and preservation.
Open Archives is also based on the belief that archives and collections should be free and open to everyone. The idea that information be free and accessible, that you can find out about a community’s history, or simply explore the holdings of a unique archive, is often still seen as a radical idea. We always hope that after Open Archives is over, attendees go back and make research appointments with some of the sites they visited.
(Above: Previous Open Archives events)
Cambridge Open Archives was started in Cambridge in 2010 by the former Cambridge Historical Society Executive Director, Gavin Kleespies (now Director of Programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society). Here’s what Kleespies has to say about the early days of Open Archives:
When it started, I had just moved back to Cambridge from Chicago and [was] in the process of getting re-acclimated. CHS was an institution that had a low public profile so I was going around the city and introducing myself and the Historical Society to organizations and community leaders. As a part of this, I met with Jim Shea and Anita Israel at the Longfellow House and Bree Harvey and Meg Winslow at Mount Auburn Cemetery. In both cases they invited me into their archives and pulled amazing examples from their collections. I thought, the Cambridge Historical Society has a great collection, but very few people use it and many people aren’t even sure it is available to them. Longfellow House and Mount Auburn have huge visitation numbers and are known across the country, but many people are unaware of the great archival collections they hold. It just struck me that there are these three great collections, that people would be really excited about if they saw them, but they just don’t come in contact with them. Then I thought, well, we’re basically all on the same street [Brattle], let’s just have a tour.
The first year was a lot of fun, so I started reaching out. I think CHC was added in the second year, but that was a little odd, since it was just on its own and was not walking distance to CHS, Longfellow or Mount Auburn. So I worked with Kit [Rawlins] and Charlie [Sullivan] and we came up with a group of city departments that had collections and were close to CHC. After that we put together a group to help plan the tour each year. Working with Alyssa [Pacy], Kit, Charlie and a group of other folks, we reached out to Harvard, MIT, churches and masons etc. I think at its largest, we had 13 institutions participating one year.
After the first year or so, Cambridge Open Archives began to be planned around a specific theme. Some of those themes have included “Adventures in Gastronomy,” which highlighted cooking and food themed collections, such as the Julia Child collection at the Schlesinger Library; “Cambridge in the 1860s”; “Spaces: Profane and Sacred”; “Living and Dying in Cambridge”; and “New Acquisitions & Old Treasures.”
Asked about one of his favorite past Open Archives themes, Kleespies talked about the MIT Lewis Music Library’s take on “Adventures in Gastronomy.” Kleespies was very interested in seeing how the Music Library would incorporate gastronomy into their collection presentations — food and music? But according to Kleespies, the Music Library’s archivist took the creative route and set up a whole “dinner table” complete with candles, tablecloth, and a full menu featuring different musical compositions, including the German Vegetable Orchestra.
Since 2015, the staff here at the Cambridge Historical Commission have served as the coordinators of Cambridge Open Archives. This year, the Open Archives theme was “Archivists’/Curators’ Choice.” Staff from participating archives were encouraged to choose collections items that they loved or that possessed special meaning; that fit a certain theme within that specific archive or museum; or some of the more unique, bizarre, or interesting materials in their collections.
If you attended any of the Cambridge Open Archives repositories this year, feel free to comment on this blog with your thoughts, or send us any pictures you may have taken.
We hope you enjoyed this quick history of Open Archives, and hope to see you at next year’s event!