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Donated collection of maps is like 'Christmas morning' for DTLA librarian

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, November 01, 2012, at 10:40AM
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Librarian Glen Creason estimates the map collection to reach into the tens of thousands.

The Los Angeles Public Library recently received what may be their largest donation of maps ever, and for librarian Glen Creason the discovery brought the joy of Christmas morning.

"This is a gift to the people of Los Angeles, not to me," Creason said. "I'm just lucky enough to be able to play with it before, to make it available to them."

Creason said that when real estate agent Matthew Greenberg called him and said, "I have a house full of maps," he was expecting a couple cardboard boxes full of things. What he found was...a house literally full of maps.

"Where you would have your dishes in the kitchen it was all atlases," he explained. "Where you would put your cups and things like that, it was street guides of Los Angeles."

The resident of the house had passed away and the building is being sold, so Creason recruited some help from other DTLA library staff members to help him move out all of the goods. Now, they're divided between three spaces in the Central Library -- an office cubicle, a massive room of stacks and, an abandoned bathroom.

"The organization here is like a teenager's bedroom," Creason said. "We just had to get everything into boxes and move it out."

He said that this is the best map gift he's ever heard of and that it ranks up there with the time the Herald Examiner gave their photo archive to the library.

The maps were the expansive collection of a hospital dietician named John Feathers, who loved traveling and began collecting maps even as a kid, said Creason. When Feathers eventually settled in Mount Washington, he just "started filling up the house" with a collection of eclectic maps.

He had fold-out maps of cities from Virginia to Boston and Chicago, world atlases from before WWI, and a map from the 1540s created by a famous cartographer. Creason said that while almost all collectors focus on one area, Feathers collection is "all over the place."

For the library it's not the rare maps that are the most valuable, said Creason, but the abundance of "mint condition" street guides of Los Angeles -- including Thomas Guides beginning from the 1940s on.

"I don't think that John Feathers collected rare maps as much as he collected maps that reminded him of experiences he had," said Creason.

The maps have all been transported to the library but now the hard part begins. Creason said that first they have to sort through all the different types of maps and separate them into geographic areas. Through this process, they've already discovered family photos and other personal items of Feathers' (although no treasure maps we are told.)

Then, the library must catalog what needs to be cataloged and try to digitize a lot of the material. As this process continues, Creason expects to find certain items that he will feature in public exhibits or make available online. He hopes to start doing programs on the find as early as December.

If you are interested in getting a first-hand look at the maps, Creason said they may host a day where the public will be invited to come and help sort through the stacks. Stay tuned!


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