The National Air and Space Museum Archives recently had the honor of receiving the Arthur C. Clarke Collection. My colleague, space history curator Martin Collins, recently wrote a post about the importance of these materials. As an acquisition archivist for the Museum, I accompanied Martin to Sri Lanka to pack up this historic collection and ensure its safe transfer to our care.
I have been the Museum’s acquisition archivist for almost 26 years, and during that time over 3,200 archival collections have been entrusted to us. Most of these materials have been personally delivered or shipped, but it has sometimes been necessary for me to travel to obtain a collection, whether to California, New York, or South Dakota. Sri Lanka has certainly been the furthest I’ve travelled for a collection.
While the distance was great and the overall size of the collection large (over 87 linear feet), the basic steps I needed to take to process the collection remained the same as projects closer to home:
1. Survey the collection.
2. Select the material to add to the Museum’s collection.
3. Create a box listing for the material.
4. Pack and arrange shipping.
From our conversations with the Arthur C. Clarke Trust, we knew that there were both artifacts and archival materials that were available for donation. Martin, as curator, reviewed all three-dimensional objects, while I reviewed the archival material.
Upon arriving at the Clarke home on December 1, 2014, I began by surveying the material. Most of the papers had been gathered in one room in a series of boxes on shelves and on the floor.
I set up my laptop beside the material and began to record the contents of the boxes and create a list of the materials I uncovered. While I created the box listing, I repacked the material into new shipping boxes provided by FedEx, who supported the trip and provided shipping.
When the surveying and packing of the collection was completed on December 9, the FedEx crew came and loaded more than 74 boxes into their truck. The boxes were then shipped from Colombo, Sri Lanka to our facility at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Quite fittingly the boxes arrived at our facility on December 16, the 97th anniversary of Clarke’s birth.
We were thrilled to receive this collection which we are now in the process of cataloging. We hope that it will be available to researchers later this year. Check back later this month as I will be posting a blog highlighting some of the fascinating material we have found in the collection.
Patti Williams is the acquisition archivist for the National Air and Space Museum.