Having fun working the reference desk

It’s been a quiet week reference-wise. So quiet, in fact, that we were beginning to wonder if the phone line is down. Often this is a busy time of year. But reference work tends to ebb and flow, and apparently we’re just having a few quiet days.

So when a reference question does come in, often we get to have a little more fun with it than normal, and today was no exception. I received a use request for one of the images of Juneau on this page, circa 1936.

IMG_4424This page is from the Alan May diaries. Alan traveled to Alaska in 1936, 1937, and 1938 as part of the Smithsonian anthropological expeditions to Kodiak and the Aleutians, led by Aleš Hrdlička. Alan wasn’t the average “digger” on these expeditions. Most of those were graduate students and Alan was a little older than that. He kept diaries and took photographs, and after he returned home (we think), he typed up all his notes and inserted pages of photographs of the locations and events in the diaries. Here’s what he had to say about Juneau in mid-May 1936, as the expedition members traveled through on their way to Kodiak. (And a bit of history/shout-out for our colleagues in the Alaska State Division of Libraries, Archives, and Museums.)

Tuesday, May 19th:

About 8 AM this morning we docked at Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Immediately we all set out under the Doctor’s [Hrdlička's] leadership to the museum, arriving there an hour and a half before it was opening time. Nothing daunted, the Doctor called up Father Kashaverof, [Rev. Andrew P. Kashevarof, the first librarian and curator of the Territorial Library and Museum] curator in charge, who is an old-time friend of his. The Father promised to come down immediately and arrived in about a half hour. He is a very well known Alaskan character and was instrumental in obtaining this most excellent museum at Juneau. The museum was, of course, of great interest and had many unusual and beautiful specimens. It is here in this museum that one can see the receipt for the sale of Alaska from the Russians.

After leaving the museum, we all went down to the Nugget Shop, Alaska’s largest and best curio store. This place was almost a museum in itself, although, of course, there was a great deal of junk for the tourist sales. Here the Doctor found a fossilized walrus skull, complete with both tusks and lower jaw, which he purchased for Twenty Dollars. It was a beautiful specimen, –and knowing the Doctor, have an idea he must have thought it worth a great deal more than the price asked. In the store window I noticed a whale tooth marked for sale at Five Dollars. They can be bought in Seattle for Fifty Cents to a Dollar apiece, so either the tourists that go there must be awful suckers or else it was a mistake in price tag. The owner of the store initiated us all into the Alaskan Order of the Glacier Bugs. After this he showed us and allowed us to handle the largest and finest piece of crystallized gold in the world. I had never seen anything like it before. Altogether it was a very fascinating store, but the prices were high. Several of Sidney Lawrence’s pictures were on display and two or three of the smaller ones were for sale at very high prices. Am told that some years ago one of his large pictures was sold for Ten Thousand Dollars.

Juneau is by far the nicest town we have seen yet. It is more modern and appears larger than Ketchikan, although really they have about the same population. Juneau would be a pretty good place to live I should think.

Next time I’m in Juneau I’m hoping for a tour of the new building for the State Library, Archives, and Museum, but I promise not to show up an hour and a half early. If you’re interested in seeing a few more of Alan May’s photographs and can’t make it in to page through his diaries, we’ve digitized and cataloged about 500 of them and placed them in the Alaska’s Digital Archives. By the way, that digitization and cataloging work was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through an Alaska State Library interlibrary-cooperation grant. So thanks to our colleagues there for making it possible for us to share these images on the web!