Libraries in the Fast Lane
By Andrew C. Herkovic (comment to author)
With the acquisition of the archives of Road & Track magazine, we at the Stanford Libraries are racing ahead in support of automotive research and history – viz. the Revs Program – at Stanford.
If you were browsing the Automotive section of the New York Times last Sunday, you might have been surprised to find there a substantial article about a Stanford Libraries coup: we have acquired a truly remarkable, quite untraditional, trove of research material, the archives of Road & Track magazine (a gift from Hearst Publishing). “Road & Track,¹ which dates back to 1947, was perhaps the most influential American automotive publication after World War II. It is considered the first to have taken a mature — almost New Yorker-like — approach to automotive journalism, said Reilly P. Brennan, the executive director of the Revs Program.”
The Revs Program at Stanford was established in 2010 with a generous gift from the Revs Institute for Automotive Research in Naples, Florida, itself the labor-of-love of car collector and scholar Miles Collier. A parallel gift is helping the Libraries develop a research website and populate digital archives of automotive material. Thus, there has been a close working relationship between the Revs Program and the Libraries from the starting line, as shown by the Road & Track acquisition.
At a victory celebration in Green Library, Brennan, Professor Cliff Nass (the “godfather of the Revs Program at Stanford”), and Mike Keller hailed the acquisition and its value for the Revs Program, with particular attention to the many library staff involved. In a letter responding to the NYT article, Keller elaborated: “While our partner the Revs Program at Stanford was certainly the catalyst that made it plausible for the Road & Track archive to come to this campus, the Libraries have been, and remain, the primary agency for the transfer of this important research collection. In short, we do the heavy lifting in acquiring, describing, preserving, and providing access to the material, while scholars with the Revs Program and others over time will reap the research benefit.”
At the celebration, Keller placed this new acquisition in another context: “Stanford’s library collections in the history of science and technology have many strengths, some longstanding. Leland Stanford, of course, was one of the founders and first president of the Central Pacific Railroad, so it is no surprise that the history of transportation was an early area of strength in the library collections. In particular, the Timothy Hopkins Collection in the history of transportation has for nearly a century offered archival materials, books, and other documents on the history of railroads, aviation, highway transportation and other transportation-related topics to the Stanford community.” He cited “many other collections [that] contain items of interest to cars and other modes of transportation,” including those of R. Buckminster Fuller (inventor of the Dymaxion car) and noted green architect and urban planner Bill McDonough (a just-announced acquisition).
The NYT article goes on to describe the archive as comprising “527 boxes weighing more than 10,000 pounds.” We don’t usually weigh our collections, but this provides some idea of this one’s extent. It includes a wide variety of ephemera, test drivers’ notes, photographs, articles, drawings, etc. Per the Stanford Report story: “Among the gems from the archives: original photography from the '50s and '60s, a sampling of the collection's 2,000 books and even old letters from manufacturers complaining to Road & Track² editors about negative product reviews,” contributing to a marvelous miscellany, organized by make, model, and year.
Let me close with yet another perspective on this acquisition from Henry Lowood, who as curator for the history of science and technology is the intellectual custodian of this archive. “The value of the Road & Track archive is not limited to automotive history. As with many of our other collections, such as the Silicon Valley Archives, the collection documents a California company and it will reveal much about contemporary culture, such as our fascination with technology (automobiles), marketing and public relations, commercial photography, and magazine journalism.” Truly, an extraordinary turn for the Libraries.
Wishing you a highly mobile and rewarding holiday season,
¹ The New York Times doesn’t use Italics for journal titles, which seems a barbarism in this day and age.
² Ditto the Stanford Report.