From the Archives – December 2020
This has been an interesting year for the Charles Babbage Institute Archives. As it has, indeed, been an interesting year for us all. Since March, University of Minnesota staff have largely been working remotely, including many of the Libraries full-time staff, and we’ve learned a number of lessons about service delivery and ensuring open access to our collections. Maintaining access to our valuable records has been my top priority over the last nine months and I’ve been collaborating with my colleagues in the Archives and Special Collections department to develop workflows and systems that will allow both safe onsite and remote access.
Currently, the CBIA archives are open to the public—in fact, we’ve never closed. We make materials physically available under very strict conditions at the Elmer L. Andersen Library four days/week, and digitally accessible through increased scanning capabilities at low-no cost to our researchers. All requests for materials should continue to be routed through me and we’ll work to provide you with access to the physical material or digital surrogate as quickly as possible. With limited onsite schedules over the winter months, things may take a bit longer than normal, but rest assured that we’ll make sure you’re provided with the materials you need.
In addition to the barriers to accessing material that we’ve worked to overcome; another challenge has been acquiring and processing collections. Since March, collection processing has largely been halted with restricted access to the building. Shipments of collections have likewise been extremely limited due to quarantining restrictions on new arrivals and securing new shipping partners. While our acquisition list this year is not as broad as it has been in previous years, we do have one very exciting and significant collection that I am delighted to announce, The Christopher Reutershan Collection of Computing and AI Literature.
Christopher (Chris) Reutershan is a Washington, D.C.-based real estate developer specializing in large, complex projects for corporate, government and cultural clients. He is also an avid collector of rare books and documents and art. His book collections range from computer history to documentary material covering flight from the Wrights thru NASA, exploration, science, modern literature and artist books.
Chris started his computer history collection in the early 1990’s as a result of meeting and befriending John Ptak through his original store in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. John’s store had an amazing collection related to the history of science and sourced much of his stock through the disposition of materials by the nation’s premier libraries, including the Smithsonian Institution, US Patent Office, NASA, etc. Rare documentation and publications from John’s store are the centerpiece of Chris’ overall collection on computer history.
In the early 2000’s, with very little early computer materials available in the market, Chris shifted his collecting focus to establishing a comprehensive review of the major computer company lines (IBM & UNIVAC) through the late 50’s. He also began collecting materials on the more recent micro/personal computer explosion in the 70’s and early 80’s. Around 2010, he further expanded into artificial intelligence through his acquisition of a significant portion of Allen Newell’s personal library.
The collection is a significant one for the Archives—for both its overall research and historical value, as well as the way in which it enhances our existing collections. Many of the publications and documents address current areas of collecting, strengthening the technical documentation for computing devices from the early 1950s-1970s in corporate records collections. More so, however, are the new areas that this collection opens up to us—specifically in the depth and breadth of its A.I. and personal/micro computer documentation from the 1970s and 1980s. The latter, especially, are areas in which I’ve been actively seeking collections, so I was delighted to accept Chris’ generous donation to the Archives.
2020 has been a strange and stressful year, but it’s also been extraordinarily invigorating as my colleagues in the Archives and Special Collections Department have pushed ourselves to build new paths to collections and ensure the same level of service as in previous years. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done this year and look forward to 2021.