Organizational profile: The Huntington


Oh, The Huntington! In my last semester of college, I got out of bed every morning at six and spent two hours on the impressively inconvenient public transit of LA County to do an internship there. (It turns out, Pasadena and Claremont actually aren’t very far apart. Who knew.) And now, on Twitter, we meet again. The Huntington began in the early twentieth century, when a railroad magnate named Henry Huntington used his millions/bajillions to build a private universe. One of the most weirdly fascinating factoids, for me, was that there are scholars there who do nothing but study Henry and write books about him. He’s an avenue, I guess, to some incredible collections of books, plants, and art.


Image used under Creative Commons License.

The Huntington is most commonly referred to as The Huntington Library (full name is The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens). This is interesting to me because the library is, for the most part, off-limits to the public. Some of its particular treasures, like a Gutenberg Bible and an Audubon Birds of America, are displayed in galleries, and other manuscripts go on display periodically (I first encountered Aphra Behn there… and holy mother of cake, I’ll have done a good job if I die with a Wikipedia entry that includes the heading “Life in England, writing career, work as a spy”).

So here’s what I want from social media at The Huntington: a glimpse of the things that, pre-Internet, I would have needed a PhD and letters of recommendation to see. There are probably barriers to this that I’m not aware of, and on top of that, I do love the idea of having only one or two copies of a given work in the world, and having the copies lovingly protected in a special place. The endless copies of things, to the point where the original hardly seems to matter, wigs me out. (Thanks, Frederick Jameson.)

And yet. It would be so neat if we married the magic of the Web with the magic of the rare. I would love it if the resident scholars could be employed as resident tweeters, and if The Huntington used hashtags to give us a series about rare books and other obscure elements of the collection. I don’t even need a photo here, just a thought or two from someone I’ve never met, someone who’s studying the things that I’ll never see.

The most recent tweets from The Huntington have to do with a recent closure due to high winds in LA. Going further back, they are mostly very chatty, describing the weather and responding to comments by others in The Huntington’s network. Which I like. I do. They are making me believe in the community that Twitter can create. (Example: “@brobest That’s what we call “quality time!” Enjoy this beautiful afternoon with your family!”) But, having spent time at the Huntington, they also make me ache for the things that aren’t there.

Again, it’s pretty hard for me to figure out what I’m feeling about this. I think it makes total sense for the collection and Twitter to be two very separate things, for the collection to do what it does best and for Twitter to do the same. So I think that is more to consider from an organizational perspective. Do you want the social media you use to disseminate what is most special about your collection/your institution? Or is it better to keep Twitter in its place and protect the integrity of the collection? A week ago, I would have emphatically said the latter. But I was so excited by the things I found at World Digital Library that now I’m not so sure.

Image above is from Check them out for cool videos of The Huntington! 


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