Last March, we announced during the first annual Northeast Florida Symposium on Underwater Archaeology that retired FSU professor emeritus George R. Fischer had offered to donate his personal library to LAMP, to form the core of a first-class research library.
With the addition of a new staff archaeologist and graduate student intern, we have finally had the time to get to Tallahassee and retrieve this fantastic gift, from the first archaeologist to oversee an underwater investigation in St. Augustine waters.
Professor George Fischer (at the helm) and Dr. Sam Turner of LAMP in Tallahassee, Florida.
In mid-October, LAMP Director Chuck Meide and Director of Archaeology Sam Turner traveled to Tallahassee to meet George Fischer and pick up his library. George's library and other office materials were boxed up and packed away in a climate-controlled storage facility when he retired after teaching at Florida State University for thirty years. George's career began as a National Park Service archaeologist, and he started teaching at FSU in conjunction with his development of the Park Service's original underwater archaeology program in the early 1970s. Ever since that time George collected all kinds of books and other materials related to maritime history, maritime archaeology, and other archaeological topics, with a particular regional focus on the southeastern U.S. and especially Florida. For years he was known by his students for (among other things) his fantastic library, and for his generosity in loaning out books to those conducting research for his classes.
The morning after a lovely dinner out with George and his wife Nancy, Sam and I arrive at the storage facility. While we are waiting for George to arrive, the storage center staff fetch a large wooden crate with a forklift. They tell us that this is the heaviest crate that either of them have ever moved.
Sam, and then myself as well, has to cling to the back of the forklift to provide a bit more counter-weight so that the forklift doesn't tilt forward with its immense load of paper.
Feeling a bit like Indiana Jones getting a glimpse of the ark in its wooden crate, we eagerly await as the giant box is opened . . .
By this time, George shows up. Here the teacher poses with his former student in front of his library. It has been boxed up for three years now.
This is the fruit of the academic career of an individual who was truly a pioneer in his field. We carefully open up every box and file drawer, so George can inspect each. While doing so he points out the occasional rare item or shares a good story (some of which cannot be shared on this blog, sorry). Sam and I are delighted to see entire runs of scientific journals such as the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, American Antiquity, Historic Archaeology, and the Florida Anthropologist. Not to mention dozens and dozens and dozens of rare and out of print books. George was collecting these from the early years, so he has many which are now very hard to find.
Slowly, we begin to fill the truck as the pile of boxes and file cabinets transfers from one spot to another.
With all loaded, we count 65 boxes of books, technical reports and other resources, along with five large and two small file cabinets of records, papers, and correspondence. With every box checked over and safely loaded, we thank George one last time and say farewell. On to St. Augustine!
The following day we are back at the Lighthouse, and its time to unload. Our collection facility is a small building on A1A between the Lighthouse and the Bridge of Lions. Because of its vibrant exterior color, this building is known affectionately to our staff as the "Mango Lounge." But inside is a veritable treasure trove of artifacts and material culture related to lighthouses, shipwrecks, and life at sea. Our most recent acquisition was a series of surplus public library shelves, which are now put to good use storing the George R. Fischer library.
Our graduate student intern from Flinders University, Karson Winslow, takes a break from loading boxes onto shelves to check out a book.
A week later, Collections Manager Kathleen McCormick and her assistant Donna Schleifer have unloaded all of the boxes, so now books are loosely arranged on the shelves according to their former boxes.
There are some cool books here!
Books are not the only media in this collection. George's library includes filmstrips, videotapes, photographs and negatives, slides, archival documents, and maps. Here LAMP Director Chuck Meide checks out a map depicting a stretch of Florida coastline with shipwreck locations denoted--sometimes X does mark the spot (though its usually not that easy).
Not even Kathleen can resist browsing through some of the more interesting titles as she inspects the collection. There is a massive amount of work ahead, as the entire collection is sorted and cataloged. We have already had one volunteer offer his services to help with this monumental task. When cataloged and entered into a digital, searchable database, this library will be a valuable research tool indeed. We'll keep you informed as to our progress, and let you know when this fabulous collection--the George R. Fischer Library of Maritime Archaeology--is finally open to the public!