Part 39: Libraries: the Medicine Chest of the Soul
What follows concurrently occurred during the search and identification of a scenery collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center’s theater. From August 2014 through May 2015, I was hired as the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center (MMHC) historical consultant. It was not until June 1, 2016 that I accepted the position of Curatorial Director at a 40% pay reduction with a job description that could not truly commence until after the facility opened on June 24, 2016.
As historical consultant, I was placed in charge of the first MMHC acquisition during the beginning of 2015 – a book collection that would form the basis for the Charles W. Nelson Library. Throughout the fall of 2014 we aggressively sought a substantial book collection as the current holdings were extremely limited; primarily including a smattering of handwritten records in the Grand Lodge Library and in the Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum.
The new library was to share almost one-third of the entire space with the Col. James B. Ladd Museum and subsequently demanded many more books to fill the space. The Nelson library was to be a grand setting, full of map tables and computers, separated from the museum by a wall of glass and French doors for security reasons. The CEO had explained that this would be a premiere research library, drawing Masonic scholars from across the nation to examine its rare contents.
By December 2015, the book collection at the Masonic Center in St. Paul, Minnesota had repeatedly popped up as a potential acquisition at a variety of meetings. This had once been the combined library of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota and the St. Paul Scottish Rite. When the Grand Lodge moved from the Masonic Center in St. Paul to their current location at the Minnesota Masonic Home (now adjacent to MMHC) in Bloomington, Minnesota, many of the books that were left on site transferred ownership to the Valley of St. Paul.
I believed this to be an ideal acquisition, having completed much of my doctoral research using books from this collection. Charlie Nelson, namesake for the Nelson Library and founder of MMHSM, had personally given me a personal tour of the library, explaining that many Masons failed to understand the significance of the collection and the range of extraordinary publications. Nelson was also the one to fully explain the York Rite degrees and visual requirements when I worked as Lance Brockman’s assistant during his touring museum exhibit, “Theatre of the Fraternity: Staging the Ritual Space of the Scottish Rite, 1896-1929” (1996).
In the St. Paul library I enthusiastically read the Supreme Council transactions for both the Northern and Southern jurisdictions, identifying some of the earliest legislation surrounding the theatrical interpretations of the indispensable degrees. I would later present most of my findings as the 2003 guest speaker for the Scottish Rite Research Society meeting during a Biennial Session, publish my findings in “Heredom” (vol. 12, pp. 141-62), and then incorporate this research into my doctoral dissertation, “Scenic Sifts upon the Scottish Rite Stage: Designing for Masonic Theatre, 1859-1926.”
I returned to the St. Paul Masonic library in January 2015 to survey the St. Paul acquisition, however, there were a series of obstacles in my path. Although I had requested a minimum of a month to carefully inventory and organize the books prior to packing and shipping, I was allotted just two weeks to inventory the collection while sharing the space with the renter. Then, I would have two weeks where I would organize and pack the boxes as the sole occupant of the space. This was a nightmare scenario as this was not the only project that I was working on at this time. During February 2015, I put in a total of 254 hours as the historical consultant – with 177 hours solely designated to the library acquisition.
Because a current renter in the St. Paul Masonic Center used the library space for meetings, I had to accommodate their schedule. I would arrive in the space, quickly jot down information, and then enter the data once returning home to my office in Cambridge, Minnesota – a 60-mile one way commute. I immediately recognized the need for help, yet had no other assistants to help with this 10,000 item acquisition. Who do you call for help when there is no one else to call? You call your parents. They showed up daily, recording the titles, authors, and publication dates in their notebooks. I would then drive home and transfer the handwritten data to an excel spreadsheet.
My inventory lists were intended to understand the scope of the collection, organize the contents, and identify individual boxes to remove from storage when the subsequent processing would commence. The majority of the collection would be placed in record storage at an offsite location – all 250 boxes. There were approximately 25 boxes, however, that held the most important manuscripts and these would be hand-carried over to the Minnesota Masonic Historical Society and Museum rooms in the Minnesota Masonic Home basement.
To be continued…