SPOTLIGHT on SLA Members: An Interview with Paul O'Pecko, Librarian at the Mystic Seaport G.W. Blunt White Library

Article excerpt

Our collection is particularly strong on nineteenth and early twentieth century shipping matters, so we receive requests from genealogists looking for the ship that brought their ancestor to this country; from archaeologists trying to identify a shipwreck that they've discovered. . .

BACKGROUND

Mystic Seaport, the Museum of America and the Sea, is located in Mystic, Connecticut, just off Route 95 and approximately two hours from both New York City and Boston. Since the Museum first opened in 1929, Mystic Seaport has sought to reconnect the American people with their maritime heritage. The museum's collections cover topics such as maritime commerce and industry, ship and boat building, recreational boating, fishing, historic preservation, gardening, architecture, meteorology, marine sciences, maritime literature, art, music, culture, political thought, foodways, navigation, and immigration. We use these materials to create exhibitions, educational programs, publications, videos, and computer multimedia productions; and to offer both the scholarly community and the general public a multitude of opportunities to undertake their own explorations of the subject of America and the Sea. The museum sits on nearly forty acres of land along the Mystic River which leads directly to the Atlantic Ocean. The museum's collections include such things as the the CHARLES W. MORGAN, the last wooden whaleship in existence, built in 1841; nearly 500 boats, the largest collection of its type in the world; over a million feet of videotape; nearly 1.5 million photographs; over sixty historic buildings and, of course, the library's collection.

Information Outlook: What is the mission and role of your library?

Paul O'Pecko: The G.W. Blunt White Library is one department within the bigger entity that is Mystic Seaport Museum, Inc. The museum's mission is to create a broad, public understanding of the relationship of America and the sea. The library's mission, in support of the museum, is to collect, preserve, and make materials available to staff, our resident students, and anyone with a general interest in maritime history.

IO: Who are your patrons?

PO: As our mission statement points out, we serve the museum staff (which includes, during the peak season, 500 regular staff and as many volunteer staff); resident students (we act as classroom and research facility for two unique maritime studies programs, one undergraduate and one graduate); and anyone with a general interest in maritime studies, whether they are genealogists, academics, artists, craftsmen, or enthusiasts.

IO: Can you give an example of a typical request?

PO: One of the most typical requests we receive concerns ship genealogy, or the birth, death, and identification of particular ships. Our collection is particularly strong on nineteenth and early twentieth century shipping matters, so we receive requests from genealogists looking for the ship that brought their ancestor to this country; from archaeologists trying to identify a shipwreck that they've discovered or from art dealers or buyers trying to determine the exact ship that appears in a painting that interests them.

IO: What is the most interesting request you ever received?

PO: In my time here I've written to more than 6,000 people, and responded in person and via phone to countless more, so choosing one is very difficult. We get questions on anchors, boats, motors, flags, boatbuilding, navies, artists, archeological digs, explorers, food, music, geography, and hundreds of other topics. One researcher that visits us occasionally studies penguins in the Antarctic. She and her husband take their children on a sailboat each summer and sail from their home in the Falkland Islands to study and photograph penguins in their natural habitat. On one of her visits here she found a sailor's journal from the early 1800's that described the flora and fauna of a particular island in the Falklands. …