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State of the Library 2012

Posted on: April 13th, 2012 by Luke Bauer

American Alpine Club State of the Library 2012

We are ready.

Two enormous changes in my life happened at the same time, about 15 years ago in Crested Butte, Colorado. I was living there, performing in a spoken-word troupe, when a group of friends decided to learn to rock climb together in Taylor Canyon. It is a story that we all know well: that experience, high on the granite, both terrifying and exuberant, transformed my life. My forearms ached and my hands no longer worked—but I didn’t want to stop. My copy of High Country Stone got dog-eared and well marked up.
Around that same time, searching for a new career, I wrote a poem. The inspiration came suddenly. Within minutes, I had scribbled in my journal about… why I wanted to be a librarian. Why I wanted to be a librarian? This is not a thought that occurs to everyone, least of all me. I had gone through grad school once already and taken a rather circuitous professional path, never once considering a career as a librarian. But those words were more than just ink on paper. They, too, had transformed me. It wasn’t long before I had moved to Austin and began a Masters in library science and archives conservation.
For a climber-librarian, the American Alpine Club Library is one of the great treasures of the world. Five years ago, when I first heard of this collection, I convinced the AAC to hire colleague Laura Staneff and me as consultants to evaluate the state of the AAC’s archives. What a great opportunity: to preserve a collection that I had barely heard of, but that introduced me to a whole world of climbing information that extended far beyond the guidebooks and instructional manuals that I knew. We wrote a very thorough report, examining everything from temperature and lighting to storage materials and archives content. We made quite a few suggestions. And I was launched into an enthusiasm for the history and description of a sport I loved. Reading biographies and essays, looking at photographs, perusing fiction written from the perspective of climbers—it inspired and instructed me in ways that weren’t accessible by simply climbing at my local crags.
AAC Library Staff Gettin' Fierce! Photo Allison OttoWe’ve come a long way since then. I am now director of the AAC Library and, like my revelations in Crested Butte, the past 18 months have been transformative for this place. Almost every improvement we suggested in 2008 has been addressed, at least in part. The organization has made important investments in our digital future. And as the Club and its library collaborate more and more, it is clear that AAC leadership takes its stewardship of our stuff—in person and online—seriously. 

Thanks to Allison Otto for the photo.

To get it all done, we’ve needed to improvise. When a member expressed concern about the plumbing that ran overhead, and volunteered to help us financially, we fixed that plumbing. We now have iPads, Kindles, and a new copier because we applied for and won a grant from the Golden Civic Foundation. And have you seen the storage system we made for our framed art? It’s made of dog-kennel fencing, tennis balls, and zip-ties! On the other hand, when we suddenly needed to store thousands of extremely rare books that came our way, we invested in a state-of-the-art shelving system. Whether shoestring or professional, these solutions are just that—solutions.
All of this work has been for a single cause: to become the best climbing information resource in the world. The time is now. Much of the foundation is built, and now the fun but demanding job of acquiring, organizing, and digitizing begins. I tell people the tag line for this library is “Tiny Library—Important Stuff—Big Ambitions” and I mean it. We are ready for that challenge.

Ready: We have the right people in place!
I feel incredibly fortunate that the Club and Library has such a fun, committed, and passionate group of smart, creative, and hard-working staff and volunteers. We are an awesome team.

  • Last year we hired Alex Depta as Assistant Librarian. Some of you have had the pleasure of getting an email or phone call from him, delivering well-researched answers to your questions about our archives or bookmail. He is funny as hell and sharp to boot, and we’re very glad he is on the team.
  • This year we hired Elizabeth Surles, Digitization Archivist. She started full-time in January and has dug in to the challenges of scanning, organizing, and creating access to the Club’s resources—with gusto. In three short months, she has built a test system that will store and deliver our digital content. She is fine-tuning the details of improving the American Alpine Journal and Accidents in North American Mountaineering online. And coming straight from the lowlands of Illinois, she has been devising quite the gear-acquisitions list for herself, having catapulted into ice-climbing first thing upon arrival.
  • Our team also includes some amazing volunteers and temporary staff, the people who find out what you need to know, put the books in the mail and back on the shelves, organize archives, enter data, move boxes and make things happen. They are: Bob Ader, Jason Albert, Regina Argo, Dan Cohen, Kaelyn Christian, Mary Ann Dornfeld, Adam McFarren, Noah McKelvin, Jim Moss, Larry Newlin, Joe Poulton, Allison Otto, Rebecca Stephens, and Marina Valenzuela.
  • Patricia Wallace has volunteered in the AAC Library since it was first established in Golden. She helped Virginia Boucher get the books out of their boxes from New York and onto the shelves. A retired serials librarian, she brought that experience to the AAC and managed our magazines, along with a thousand other jobs over the years. Pat retired from her volunteering this year and deserves our gratitude for her service. She will be missed, along with Brendan MacDonald, Mike Budlong, Maryanne Brush, Katie Sauter, Mara Stewart, Erin Thompson, and Katie Worley.

Ready! We are building our resources:

  • With the help of our Media Partners we are building the Armando Menocal Guidebook Collection into the most comprehensive resource of books—your climbing library, available for checkout. We have received book and DVD donations from individual authors and publishers, including Falcon BooksFixed Pin PublishingiClimbSender FilmsSharp End PublishingSupertopo, Top of the World Books, and Wolverine Publishing. With Armando’s help, we are also building a collection of rare guidebooks.
  • Our library is incredibly strong, and is only growing stronger with the addition of the 30,000-volume Central Asia Library and continuing acquisitions for the John M. Boyle Himalayan Library. Together these new resources will allow researchers to access an encyclopedic collection of books about human endeavors in the mountains of the world, including numerous extremely rare volumes. Stay tuned for blog posts on Inclined featuring selected highlights and stories.
  • We are ready to build our unique collections now: the diaries, trip journals, personal letters, hand-drawn topos, artwork, photographs, slides, and one-of-a-kind gear that will inspire and educate current climbers, as well as climbers 100 years from now, about the history and culture of climbing. This year we will reach out to members to donate the things that document the history and culture of climbing. There is nothing like holding a hemp rope to provide a sense of what it was like to climb with it, and there is nothing like holding a letter written by John Muir or a sketch created by a climber-artist from 2012 to make the past come alive in the future. If we are truly to document our passions, help us preserve them by sending them here! Please give me a call to discuss your potential donation. Read our guidelines for archives donation on

Ready! We are getting online:

  • By the end of the year, we plan to launch a searchable online database that will allow members everywhere to use our archives. Because we will have an organized method to store digital files, this is the year we can finally say yes to inquiries from authors who want to donate their dissertations, essays, video and audio, to climbers who would like to make sure their legacies have a place to be kept for the future. We are ready for your recorded interviews and your collections of email correspondence, digital photos, videos, and audio.
  • Many of you call or email us with questions, and we often find those answers in our hundreds of climbing magazines and climbing organizations’ annual journals. This is the year that we will make this information more available online, starting with the AAC’s own American Alpine Journal and Accidents in North American Mountaineering. We are ready to create better search engines for the AAJ and to put ANAM online for the first time ever.
  • In November 2010 we launched, our online catalog. You have responded by checking out more books than ever. Did you know that you also can log in to make purchase suggestions and to comment on books that you have read?
  • Last summer we launched the AAC Guidebook Finder, which allows you to browse a Google Map of 200+ climbing areas in the U.S., see what guidebooks are available, and then check them out through the new AAC online catalog. We have plans to add more trip-planning tools like this.
  • We are telling our stories on Inclined, and posting updates on the American Alpine Club Library Facebook page. Please “like” us! In the coming year, we are going to be using these social media sites, along with Twitter, to help members reach out to each other to answer questions about climbing. Our Story Project podcasts are on iTunes, our images are on Flickr, and in a year’s time we hope to have them hosted on the AAC website.

We are building a plan for the future:
In 2008, when I started to explore the hundreds of boxes in the archives, I discovered that it was like “Antiques Roadshow” every day, and I realized that we have an incredible wealth of research material and inspiring stories about climbing, mountains, and people. Since then we have been working to make these resources available to our members. These are our stories, our legacies, and they’re beginning to come alive.
These are busy and exciting times at the AAC. The implementation of the Five-year Plan is well underway, and we are moving forward toward our goals. My vision goes beyond five years, however, even beyond a hundred years. We are gathering power to make your climbing library, archives, and digital information an ever-growing permanent resource through hard work, fund-raising (including generous efforts such as Sandy Hill’s Mountain book), and publicity and outreach.
Want to help? Just give me a shout. I am always ready to hear your ideas.[email protected]303-951-4564.
Thanks for making this library strong!

Beth Heller
Library Director