This spring break I was lucky enough to visit the Library of Congress in Washington, DC to conduct research on my dissertation, and to specifically look at materials for my CHI project.
At the LOC, I worked my way through thousands of pages of documents from the bicycling industry and nineteenth-century bicycle culture. The LOC has a collection of rare cycling magazines and periodicals from the 1890s which have yet to be digitized. Most of the sources for my project have already been digitized, such as major newspapers, government reports, popular magazines, and women’s rights documents. My major tasks involve reading them, organizing them, and building bridges to connect brief mentions of my topic into a larger narrative. My work at the LOC was quite different. With nothing but stacks of periodicals which filled up many shelves, I spent my week flipping through each volume page by page, looking for any discussion of women cyclists. I read article after article from what then were popular magazines such as The Wheelman’s Gazette, American Cyclist, and Cycling Life. These periodicals were designed and published primarily for male bicyclists, but members of the bicycling industry also read them regularly. While men’s cycling dominated these magazines, reporters did discuss women’s cycling at times, and some magazines even published regular columns specifically by and for women riders. In these columns, women shared bicycling tips, discussed new gear, and extolled the pleasures of riding to those new to the sport. The columnists often highlighted women’s role in the bicycling industry, especially as inventors and work in retail.
Digging through all of these periodicals page by page made me even more appreciative and passionate about digital preservation. Many of these periodicals are damaged and showing great signs of wear. Some are falling apart at the binding, and others are so fragile that LOC staff was unable to let me view them. One periodical was even lost in the stacks, and despite the help of a few librarians, was unable to be found. These materials are increasingly at risk for decay and damage as time passes, and they seem like a perfect candidate for digital preservation so they can be available to future scholars and scholars who cannot access the LOC.