Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Interview with Red Grange's caretaker

I've been working on landing some interviews. One finally came in.

Earlier this month I contacted David B. Malone, Assistant Professor, Library Science and Head of Archives and Special Collections at Wheaton College (Illinois). In his role as Head of Archives and Special Collections he gets to oversee the Harold "Red" Grange Papers, 37 boxes of material. I asked him some questions about it.

Tell me a bit about yourself.
I was born in Cleveland and just like the town I've had my ups and downs. But I always remember, That We Built This City..... Well, that's another story. For the last 18 years I've worked in a library context and most of those within an archive and special collections. I get to work with old, rare, scarce and unique materials. Its a great job. I learn something new everyday.

What is the Red Grange Collection?
The Red Grange Collection has been at Wheaton College for over twenty-five years. Originally, it was a part of the Dupage Heritage Gallery, which was begun as a "hall of fame" for those folks from DuPage County, Illinois that have had a national influence, like Grange and Elbert Gary (US Steel) and others. The Grange collection and some other archival collections were transferred to Wheaton College when the Gallery could no longer house or care for them. This is the largest publicly-available collection on the hall-of-famer who put professional football on the map.

What is the funnest/most interesting item from that collection?
I would say that the most interesting item is the Red Grange Doll. We have affectionately called it Chuckie and I've always wondered what little boy in the 1920s said to his father, "Daddy, I want a doll." Sure you do, kid.

Can the collection ever be added to? If a sports card company issues a set of Red Grange cards, would you consider adding to the collection, or is it static?
Since the collection is the largest available to researchers and general gawkers we work to keep it that way. So, when things come out and as our meager budget allows we add things. I was just sent a list from a sports auction house, some of the items we don't have and would love to get, but when things run into the thousands of dollars we have to leave that to the deeper pockets (cough* NFL *cough).

Are there plans to convert the cassette tape interviews to a digital medium?
We are regularly digitizing materials in response to particular patron requests or projects. We haven't digitized much in the Grange collection yet as we've been putting a lot of effort into bringing up an archival management system that will enable folks to easily find what we have and, after we've got that up and running, to plug digital materials into it so that someone can search Google, find an entry, use our database and then click on a particular item and view or hear the resource.

Can you share some photos of the collection?
We have made our images available for a variety of uses. Our Grange images have been in various publications and productions. We license them for publication and for private use and we do charge a license fee. These fees help use recover our costs for staff time, but also enable us to acquire other items for the collection so that they are preserved for the future and make them available for people to see.

As a professional collector/curator, do you prefer quality or quantity? Would you purchase one expensive Shakespeare first folio or two third folios to round out the E. Beatrice Batson Shakespeare collection? Should a collector buy the best they can afford if it fits into their collecting scope?
Ah, this is the real question. A collector should begin by asking why am I doing this? If you ask anyone involved in developing a collection (public or private) they'll articulate a reason for the collection. Since we have the best public collection we want it to show the full career of Grange. The University of Illinois collection only focuses upon Grange's collegiate career. The Chicago Bears archive is only interested in his Bears career, not when he left Halas to start a rival league. Collectors, by nature, want things that are unique. Differentiation is a hallmark of the human spirit.

What is your earliest memory of sports cards or memorabilia?
I remember having baseball cards as a child and I don't think I was buying them for the gum, or were those shims? And I remember having playground discussions about sports, but my family weren't dyed-in-the-wool sports nuts--we did got to baseball games to see the Indians--but it wasn't our lives. So, sports were never the lingua franca of my childhood. I'm not sure what was, but I did enjoy reading. I think the thing that captured my attention was stamps. Someone gave my twin brother and me a stash of old stamps and albums from the 1920s. Going through these and thinking of a far away time and place kept my attention for quite a while.

Did you get ever personally collect sports memorabilia? If so, did you have a focus?
I've enjoyed sports as a participant throughout, but it wasn't my life. Even now, my wife and daughter know more about specific players and teams than I do. Unfortunately I could tell you how to format your hard drive or fix some HTML, but that doesn't fill up too much Sunday television, now, does it?

There is a part of the collecting industry that grades and protects cards (PSA, BGS , and others). Some collectors wish the cards to be released from their plastic prisons. As an archivist, what are your thoughts?
Even though Mr. McGuire urged Benjamin Braddock to remember one word -- Plastics -- this is a word of great concern archivally. One needs to be careful of the type of plastic one uses. PVC, or polyvynil-chlorate, is bad--very bad. Mylar is good--oh so good. In the 1950s and 1960s the big thing was to laminate everything. So, all these archives laminated these rare documents to protect them. Well, they created micro-environments that encapsulated all the negative elements (e.g. acids in wood-based paper) and the deterioration was hastened exponentially. I think protection is good, but sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Any final thoughts or comments?
If you're ever in Chicago come for a visit, I'd be happy to show you around.

Note: David and I met about 18 years ago. We were both working at Wheaton College, both newlyweds and we lived in the same condo building. I've enjoyed his friendship, his knowledge and wit. He's a good friend and I thank him for granting this interview.

1 comment:

  1. When I read the post title I thought he was the caretaker for Red Grange's body. Like Jeremy Bentham's body at London University College.