Long Beach Public Library Shows Off Small Part of Historical Archives

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In Long Beach’s Main Library, there sits a back room of mazes and mini alleyways that harbor the Library Historical Archives, a collection of artifacts, documents, books and art that has been growing since its beginning in 1896.

And a handful of those oddities are now on display at the Main Library as part of the organization’s “Hidden Library” exhibit.

There is no interconnecting motif between the library-owned objects other than the simple fact that they are from a lost time that reminds us of how much technology and modernity have influenced our current existence.

Take, for example, the needlepoint sampler from 1776: handwoven threads create a Hansel & Gretel-type scene with the alphabet lining its top and bottom. These forms of embroidery, with the oldest dating back to the 15th century, were initially used as a way to preserve skill–needlepointers would keep their “samplers” to reference for larger needlework projects. Eventually, much like this piece, samplers were stitched to help educate more than preserve needlework skill.

On a much more grand scale, the library owns several Work Projects Administration (WPA) pieces, which it highlights through small photos and a list of locations throughout Long Beach.

Formerly the Works Progress Administration and then renamed in 1939, the WPA was one of the largest facets of F.D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agency. Between 1935 and 1943 alone, the WPA employed some eight million Americans, many of whom were artists. This includes Suzanne Miller’s nine oil murals in the periodicals section of the Main Library.

A further array of intriguingly odd objects can be found entombed in glass cases: an Arabic paper that comments on the Koran from 1276, the creepy-yet-awesome doll collection donated to the library by Kathleen Head, an 1860 sword from the Civil War that was issued to Republic soldiers, even a 1890 book that shows the property taxes of Long Beachers.

In short, the “Hidden Library” exhibit is a tiny tour of human history, a hodgepodge of the wonderfully peculiar objects that our City’s library has collected to hold up a small albeit fascinating mirror of our former selves. Here’s to hoping this becomes a more common series of exhibits, where even more of LBPL’s extensive archives have the opportunity to be unearthed.

For library hours and more information about the “Hidden Library” exhibit, visit lbpl.org

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food to politics to urban transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 12 nominations and an additional win for Best Political Commentary. Born in Big Bear, he has lived in Long Beach since college. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.
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