Anybody following me on Twitter likely knows that while searching for information on oral history tonight I came across the website of the Leather Archives and Museum. Needless to say, I had to blog about it (but don’t worry, it will be short). I found the Leather Archives and Museum interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, although small, it is active in scholarship. The library and archives collection contains 5,000 books; 12,000 magazines; over 100 journals; and more than 5,000 DVD’s, videos and audio tapes. The library and archives also provides research assistance by volunteers and in 2010 a visiting scholar stipend of up to $1,500 with a $500 travel allowance was offered to a researcher interested in using the collection. Finally, since 2003 the Leather Archives and Museum has published a quarterly journal which contains thoughtful articles, and while perhaps not traditionally academic, they are by no means amateur either. For example, there was a brief article in Vol.1 2003 relating to Google archiving all Usenet discussion forums, which were a significant online meeting place for “kinky folks”, and the implications this has for historical researchers.
While scholarship is present at the institution, the material is not presented as a one-way dialogue between expert and novice. Rather, the public is invited to engage with the Leather Archives and Museum by recommending library material to add to the collection.
The Leather Archives and Museum is active in the local community, and has had an average of 53 meetings or events per year since opening their doors in 1999. This is pretty impressive for a museum that is only open 4 days a week. The museum is also active in the online community, and maintains profiles on LiveJournal, Going, MySpace, YouTube, LibraryThing, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter.
Another interesting thing about the Leather Archives and Museum is its use of the internet. Because it is a small specialty museum it does not get an abundance of visitors to the site (the yearly average according to the website is only 1,133). However, the website gets over 400 unique hits a day, and over half of the visitors bookmark the site (also according to the website).
I could go on and on, but I told you this one would be short (I lied). I will end by urging you to check out their website, and especially their newsletters (they’re under Resources). The Leather Archives and Museum is a great example of a number of things:
1) how the gap between scholarship and public consumption is being bridged;
2) how “amateurs” can be the “experts”, harkening back to the days before the professionalization of history;
3) how a dedicated group of people can create a truly unique educational opportunity;
4) how the power of the digital age can be harnessed to develop your cultural institution as a physical and online community;
5) and how someone interested in oral history can unexpectedly gain a new appreciation for leather.