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June 22, 2010 > History: The Maurice Marks Center for Local and California History

History: The Maurice Marks Center for Local and California History

By Phil Holmes

The Fremont Library will be celebrating the opening of the new Maurice Marks Center for Local and California History on June 29th at 7 p.m. The celebration will take place in the Fukaya Room at the Fremont Main Library. These new facilities provide room for all local history materials, space for the collection to grow and easy access to a wealth of information, some of which has been hidden from public view for decades.

The Local History Collection at the Fremont Main Library survives today as a precious resource through the efforts of dedicated individuals.

When our first local history librarian, Ellen Cornish, came to Fremont in 1957 to head up the Washington Township Reference Service at the Centerville Branch Library, the library, which was established in 1910, already had a significant California collection. However, Ellen laid the foundation for a true local history focus by collecting and organizing pamphlets, reports, articles, and clippings about Washington Township in vertical file cabinets and creating an index in the card catalog.

She observed that her job was to "help people find what they need and want;" that was her lifelong mission. Her duties were many and varied, but mostly she answered questions-over 2,000 in one month.

Ellen described seven sections of the Local History Collection in 1976. Section One listed some of the books on local history including the W. P. A. History of Rural Alameda County. Section Two included tapes by civic leaders and old-timers. Section Three was special monographs of the W. P. A., and section Four was their indexes. Section Five was made up of telephone directories and great registers, and section Six was the Gladys Williamson Collection with a separate index and file. The last was local history clippings. All of these resources exist today along with numerous new books and essays that explore the rich heritage of this region.

The Gladys Williamson Papers, donated to the library after her death in 1967, are unique and remain one of the most heavily used resources in the Maurice Marks Center. Ellen described the Gladys Williamson Collection and detailed some of her efforts in caring for the "gold mine" of information in the 12 boxes of notes, files, manuscripts, and clippings donated to the library. She decided to follow the practices already established for the local history files using the names of the towns for subject headings with the necessary cross references. In 1972 she reported that she had spent about two and a half years setting up headings, filing, and preparing index cards.

Ellen Cornish retired in 1976 and was succeeded by Curtis Smith, who supervised the collection until Barbara Baxter took over in 1986.The building was very crowded, and every little space-including closet and workroom-had to be used to store library materials.

Lack of space and numerous moves have been a challenge in maintaining this special collection. A fire at the Centerville Library in 1971 led to new quarters in a portable building on Sailway Drive in Central Park. Sandi Pantages, who became the Manager of Fremont Libraries in 1976, spearheaded the effort for a new Main Library and opened the present $12 million building on Stevenson Boulevard in 1989. Community members were interested in commemorating civic leader Maurice Marks and, through their efforts, a section of the new library was dedicated as the Maurice Marks Center for Local and California History.

Janet Cronbach came to Fremont as a library assistant in 1995.Work with the local history collection inspired her to study archival methods, preservation techniques, and other library skills while she was earning her Master's Degree in Library and Information Science. By the time she was awarded her degree, she was ready to take on full responsibility for the collection.

Janet worked with Linda Sitterding on assessing the needs of the collection. They found the collection needed better security and protection from environmental hazards, and determined to move it to safe conditions while planning a new location.

The process of developing a new space for the local history collection has been a more complex and time-consuming process than anyone would have guessed at the onset. The library has undergone significant changes in the last decade, making every effort to "work smarter" and provide more to the community while coping with an ever-tightening budget. The local history room project often had to take a back seat while the library addressed more pressing needs.

Nevertheless, much has quietly progressed behind the scenes, including preservation of historic maps, conversion of Maurice Marks' oral history interviews from reel-to-reel cassettes to CD-Rom, and development of a database for the local newspaper index. As the new local history center opens, the collection is in much better shape for researchers to use.

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