In the past week and a half, I have twice had the golden opportunity to promote the Patterson/Brown/Johnston papers in the Dayton Metro Library’s collection. Each one was a shining example of one of those moments when it felt completely appropriate to both the subject matter of interest, as well as the research level, to say, “Have you seen our [insert name of manuscript collection here]?” In this case it was, “Have you seen our Brown-Patterson Papers?” The Brown-Patterson Papers mostly include papers from Henry Brown, an early Dayton merchant, but among those papers are correspondence to Brown from his father-in-law Robert Patterson, as well as his brother-in-law John Johnston, and many other people, usually in regards to Brown’s selling them something. [View the finding aid.]
In both of these instances when I suggested the Brown-Patterson Papers, the person responded, “Oh, I thought all of that was at Wright State.”
Yes, it’s true, the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives does have a larger (9 linear feet) collection of Patterson Family Papers (MS-236). And just so we’re clear, I’m not begrudging the fact that people know WSU has a big collection of Patterson stuff. That’s great that they’ve obviously promoted it, and people know it’s there. But sometimes I’m a bit of a logic/technicality nut : obviously “all” that stuff isn’t at Wright State, because there are some Patterson manuscripts at the Dayton Metro Library.
When I first said we had this stuff, I think they were probably thinking, “Is she sure she knows what she’s talking about? Maybe they have copies of what Wright State has…” (Which, actually, we do have copies of what Wright State has – on microfilm. But that’s not what I was referring to.) No, really, I promise, it’s actual, real, old paper stuff. I have personally seen it and organized it myself.
In both cases, they did believe me, and they were pleased to see our materials, having no idea that we had any original manuscript materials on their topic. And I must say, I was quite proud of myself for finding two new users for those very important papers. After all, what good are these things if nobody knows they exist or uses them?
Sure, on the one hand, it’s the researcher’s duty to check every logical place (and sometimes illogical ones – things wind up in weird places sometimes!). And on the other hand, it’s the library/archives’ duty to try to make their collections holdings known, so researchers can find them.
But I really told you all of that, so I could tell you this… I got to thinking : it is so widely known that “the Patterson Family Papers” are at the Wright State Archives. If I did not work with the Dayton Metro Library archival materials, would I have known that any Patterson manuscripts were at the library? Might I not have thought the same thing : “Oh, that’s all up at Wright State.” [After all, the collection at DML was only recently added to WorldCat, so long-time researchers might have missed it unless they checked WorldCat again in the past few months.]
But we have to be careful — as researchers and as librarians — not to fall into that trap of thinking, “Oh, all of that is…[anywhere].” It’s very easy for materials on a particular person or family to be “dispersed.” Have you ever written a letter or an email? To how many different people? Have you shared your photographs? Have you ever had a grandparent die and watched as their things were parceled out to children and grandchildren? As heirlooms pass on down, down, down the line, things that belonged to one person many years ago (even decades or hundreds of years ago) could wind up…anywhere.
I think we could all agree that in most cases, what has been saved is just a fraction of what existed. So I don’t think we should ever really be surprised to learn that there is more information about So-And-So “somewhere out there.” Just smile and be happy you found it.
The Brown-Patterson Papers (MS-015) discussed here can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.
For more information about the Patterson Family Papers (MS-236) at Wright State University, contact the WSU Special Collections & Archives.