There has been a bit of buzz recently about the current state of affairs at the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA, specifically as it relates to Jerry Conrad no longer being with the Museum.
For those of you who may not be familiar, the Mariners' Museum has in their Library, the Chris-Craft Collection of historic Chris-Craft documents. Some of these documents are rare, while others are not as rare. The collection spans the period of time from the early 20s through the early to mid 80s. This collection is important to us all, as there are a number of items specific to the collection that do not exist elsewhere, namely hull cards, and construction information.
Recall, about a year ago, many of us discussed that the Chris-Craft Collection was being moved from the Mariners' Museum campus across the way to Christopher Newport University. After a fairly lengthy period of downtime, the collection was once again accessible in its new home, in the last weeks of 2008 in its new location.
See this topic for a refresher: http://www.chris-craft.org/discussion/v ... hristopher
Back in February of 2009, I receive a call from a new hire at the Mariners' Museum, Steven Brecker, Director, Business Development. I had a few conversations with Mr. Brecker about what we have been doing with our own online archive. He was very eager to learn more, as he was charged with figuring out ways to better utilizing their collections. The short story of this is that we talked about many ways that we could collaborate, in an effort to getting the Mariners' Museum's Chris-Craft collection more accessible, perhaps returning more revenue to the Museum, tying up less staff resources. Our discussion was music to his ears. He was very eager to continue developing strategy.
One of my dreams has been to digitize all of the hull cards. There are well over 100,000. Honestly, from a technology standpoint, this club can make this happen. All we need is to share a common goal, secure the funds to do so. How the whole program gets monetized on the web is another issue, but it could be quite possible to recoup the investment in not too many years.
Given these discussions, I placed a call or tow, and an email or two, to Jerry Conrad. I am not sure I ever received a call back, but admittedly, they were swamped with inquiries after their move. Every month or so, I would drop Jerry an email expressing my desire to talk. I was willing to fly out to Newport News and have a face-to-face meeting if necessary. We didn't get too far.
Flash forward to just a couple of months ago. Brian Robinson has been working on some research relative to Capris, and 20' post war Custom Runabouts. Brian and I were mutually working on a request from the Museum for some hull card data on these models. Brian placed the request with Jerry. Some time later we all learned that Jerry was no longer with the Museum. It was a surprise to me and others, I am sure.
In an effort to find out where this research request stood, I started making some calls to the Museum. Specifically I spoke with Allen Bobbe, a Museum volunteer, and Jim Hooker, another volunteer. After a call to Jerry, we found out that the request had been started but just needed to be finished out. The work is now complete, thanks to these two volunteers finishing the project.
From one of these contacts, it was confirmed that Jerry, is indeed, no longer with the Museum. I did not hear that he was let go, nor did I learn that he quit. Honestly, I don't feel that is much of my business, other than he is no longer there.
My contact informed me that Jerry's role was now going to be filled by Mary Sellen, Chief Librarian for the library at Christopher Newport University. I got the feeling that this might have been a belt tightening, financial decision. This is my opinion, however.
In a few follow up calls to Steve Brecker, their relatively new Director of Business Development, I learned that he, also, was no longer with the Museum. His exit could have been due to one of many reasons, so again I cannot speculate what is going on.
I do know that the Mariners' Museum has played a pretty critical role in the protection of Chris-Craft history. These documents could have very likely met the dumpster, had the Mariner' Museum not stepped in to take care of them.
Since the records have been at the Museum, they have been moderately accessible, have been very well handled, and preserved. This is a very important thing.
for our newer members, it is hard to imagine the extensiveness of this collection. Some say it was 2.5 semi loads of documents. Others say 4 semi loads. Either way. it is enough ephemera to fill a very good size building, so the protection of the docs has been no small feat.
Where are we today? Well, I don't know. I will be calling Ms. Sellen this next week. My hope is that she is cordial and eager to collaborate.
I learned from one Museum employee that the number of research requests has been going down for a couple of years now, and that they only get a few requests a day by phone or mail. He assumed that there was probably less interest in these old boats, and that no one was restoring them anymore.
This is a fairly naive statement, but it is honest, and accurate based on what he knows. I was quick to point out that I do not think that this is the case, and perhaps the drop in requests was due to other issues.
I hope that we will be able to make our case for cooperation with the Museum, and get these records, more accessible than ever.
We know their target market better than anyone. In fact , we ARE their target market.
Let's hope for the best.