Today's essay comes to us from Library volunteer and Friends of the Library member, Mike Bowler, who I will let introduce himself. How could the exciting work environment at the Baltimore Sun possibly stack up the surprises you encounter in the archives?
Contented in the Archives
Retired from a long career in journalism and communications, I volunteered to work in the Special Collections Department of the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery at UMBC. Curator Tom Beck promptly offered six projects and invited me to take my pick. They were all great topics, but I chose “The Union Views of H.L. Mencken.” I had worked at the Sun and Evening Sun for nearly 35 years (and had been a Newspaper Guild member all that time, participating in two strikes). I’d always wanted to know more about HLM; here was the opportunity.
The first day was memorable. I was assigned to staffer Lindsey Loeper, who gently told me that the cup of coffee in my hand would have to go. Moreover, handling some of the material I would have to wear gloves!
I was soon immersed in boxes of original documents Lindsey had gathered from here and there, including memos from Mencken dating back to the early ‘30s, minutes of negotiating sessions and grievances brought by employees trying to organize the Sun. (Mencken was the chief labor negotiator for the company for several years.)
After I went through that material, I started reading everything I could find by and about Mencken, including his diaries and the fabulous “Newspaper Days,” which I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t read previously. The UMBC Library has an excellent Mencken collection, some of which I could check out of the general stacks. Took me back to college days!
There’s still a long way to go, but I hope to produce a mini-exhibition for the gallery. Tom and Lindsey have been patient with me, as I’ve diverted from time to time to other pursuits (currently and temporarily enumerating for the U.S. Census). The entire experience for me has been exciting (especially touching and reading the original documents) and highly educational.
You can learn more about the Baltimore Sun financial and selected labor records and our other Sun related collections on the Special Collections website.