Newsletters with evocative titles such as “Practical Anarchy” and “Bolshevik Tendencies” – tucked away in cardboard boxes bearing labels like “Anarchism Collection (Box 2) – sit, uncatalogued, in the library basement at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
Shelves there contain more than 5,700 books devoted to fringe and mainstream political movements, and diverse subjects such as Nazi Germany, the Spanish Civil War and the American Civil Rights movement.
And there are scrapbooks, buttons, video and audio tapes, personal papers of activists, and cheaply produced pamphlets – often discarded quickly, they are now rare – crammed into dozens of cardboard boxes.
This hodgepodge of political ephemera comprise the Holt Labor Library, founded by early Apple employee Rod Holt, in San Francisco. But now the collection has been handed over to Cal State Dominguez Hills, the largest archival donation in the university’s history. The donation also came with a $200,000 contribution so the university could hire someone to catalog it all.
Greg Williams, who has spent the last 15 years as the university’s director of archives and special collections – and who was instrumental in acquiring the collection – described it as a “fantastic expression of 20th century dissent.”
And that’s apt for an institution like Cal State Dominguez Hills, founded and located in Carson in response to the Watts Rebellion in the mid-1960s, Williams said.
“It’s sort of the greatest hits of world socialism, communism and the reaction to capitalism,” Williams said. “We have a history of labor studies at Dominguez Hills, but it’s really more than a labor collection: It’s politics, it’s sociology, it’s anthropology, it’s history and any number of other topics.
“This is just a huge collection of labor activist movements worldwide actually,” Williams added, “and the folks that created this were serious about their interest, but also aware of the extremes some philosophies can generate.”
Holt, Apple’s fifth employee before departing in the 1980s, was also a staunch labor activist. He established the Holt library in 1992.
Williams learned about it while visiting his favorite Bay Area bookstore, Bolerium Books, which provides rare and out-of-print materials on social movements to scholarly institutions.
The Holt collection was housed in an obscure second-floor Geary Street building next door to dentist offices and the like, operated by a nonprofit Holt founded. But that organization was looking for institutions to preserve it.
There are early newspapers and pamphlets with such call-to-action names as “The Liberator,” “The Crusador” and, from 1913, “The Masses.” There’s also an almost-complete set of Black Panther newspapers. Issues of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. And so on.
“This is a lot of old stuff,” Williams said. “The job of a library is both to make new stuff available, but to look back and see if there’s anything that can be learned from past movements.”
The Holt library will also complement some of the university’s approximately 300 existing special collections, which already include extensive holdings of right-wing groups like the John Birch Society.
Williams said he hopes the material can start becoming available to students and researchers in about six months. But he said he expects as much as three years of work will be needed to get a handle on much of it.
The idea, Williams said, is to make Cal State Dominguez Hills “a destination place for research on radical movements and labor.
“What I like about this collection, is there is such a diversity of opinion and the types of topics,” Williams said. “It’s important for libraries to have this older material accessible so the students can actually touch it and feel what a newspaper or a pamphlet feels like.”
“It’s going to be a very fun collection to learn about,” he added.
Source: LA Daily News