Museum will close at 2:30pm with final admission at 2:00pm on Saturday November 19th for our International Hall of Fame Celebration.

The Museum’s Library & Archives: A Remarkable Success Story

Today the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s Library & Archives is one of the largest of its type in the nation with what is believed to be the largest online aerospace collection in the world. But this wasn’t always the case. What started with rather humble beginnings in the 1960s, has grown to be one of the most respected and sought after aviation collections in the world. When the first few items were gathered, no one could have imagined that they would be instantly viewable to millions across the globe. 

A number of donations were received after the Museum’s founding in 1961, often including books and valuable aviation collectables. On special and rare occasions, major gifts were also given. One such gift soon after the Museum’s founding was from Mr. and Mrs. Earl Prudden, consisting of Mr. Prudden’s historical collection from the early years of aviation. Mr. Prudden had been a long time executive with Ryan Aeronautical Company. These papers were the foundation of our first library, referred to at the time as the Prudden Library. 

Also having a large effect on our growing library was Major George E. A. Hallett, who had been associated with Glenn Curtiss at North Island as early as 1910. Later, Major Hallett was chief of the power plant branch for the Army Air Service at McCook Field in Ohio. He also served as a special consultant at Consolidated Aircraft during World War II. An early Museum volunteer, he was named Chairman of the Prudden Historical Library & Archives in 1969.

Philanthropist N. Paul Whittier was a frequent Museum visitor. He was a wealthy oilman, as well as a noted pilot, with his original pilot’s license signed by Orville Wright. Whittier made a large cash donation to the Museum, which was eventually used for critically needed Library & Archives cabinets and shelving. In recognition of his gift the library was re-named and referred to as the Whittier Library. Other gifts over the years, large and small, have enabled our fledging Library & Archives to grow in both quantity and quality. 

In 1971 Brewster “Bruce” Reynolds was named head of the Museum’s Library & Archives, the first full time staff member to hold the position. He brought his extensive collection of historical aviation records, news and events with him. “His” library was a major part of what burned in 1978. Fortunately, Reynolds remained with the Museum to see the library come back to life, moving into its spacious new quarters in the Ford Building. In 1985 Marion Buckner joined the Museum as our first true librarian, remaining until the late 1990s.

Bruce Reynolds retired in 1985 and was replaced by Ray Wagner as head of the Library & Archives. Wagner was a local high school history teacher, as well as the author of a number of aviation articles and books, most notably the renowned American Combat Planes of the 20th Century. His extensive aerospace history background and knowledge provided a ready answer for the many queries from researchers, staff, volunteers and members. Wagner retired in 2000, but remained a volunteer until his passing in 2012. 

John Bolthouse, who replaced Wagner in 2000, joined the Museum with an extensive museum and archival background, as well as a long-standing desire to be associated with the San Diego Air & Space Museum. He grew up in a family rich in naval aviation tradition and had gained important aviation archivist experience through schooling and hands-on work. 

In 2005, we were fortunate to hire Katrina Pescador, replacing Bolthouse, to oversee management of the Library and Archives. A highly experienced archivist, and the first female to hold this position, Ms. Pescador brought with her the skills needed to further raise the Museum’s prestige. She implemented many of the practices which have led to today’s successes. Debbie Seracini was added to the full-time staff in 2013 to accommodate the increase in research requests.

Faced with significant space issues, Ms. Pescador reorganized the collection utilizing space-saving shelving. Collections housed in nine different locations were consolidated into five storage rooms, with newly provided environmental controls. Now with the Museum for over ten years, she has also led the image and film digitization and on-line presence effort, bringing worldwide attention to the Museum. She has been assisted in this effort by Alan Renga, who joined the Museum as Assistant Archivist in 2001, and Pamela Gay, who joined as Librarian in 1998. 

Today, the Library & Archives holdings are unparalleled. There are 30,000 books, over three million photographs of aircraft, people and related subjects, and individual files for virtually every aircraft, military and civilian. The space program is also well-documented, and accomplished persons and events of note have special, dedicated records sections. The Library & Archives also houses the corporate records of three major San Diego aircraft manufacturing companies: Consolidated-Convair-General Dynamics, Ryan Aeronautical-Northrop Grumman, and Rohr-Goodrich-UTC. 

In the past decade the Library and Archives has expanded well beyond its walls through a dramatic on-line presence. The card catalog was placed into an online library system, and then both Flickr.com and YouTube.com sites were launched to provide and highlight our digitized images and films. To date, over 190,000 images and films have been placed online, receiving over 125 million views in four years. We believe this is the largest online collection of its type in the world. In 2014, our Museum was named one of the top eight museums in the world to use social media to spotlight its collection, the only one of the eight dedicated to air and space history. Much of this growth has been made possible through the effort of almost forty volunteers, who contributed over 7,000 hours in 2014.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter

Get Social with SDASM