CLEVELAND – If the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is the home of modern American music, you can imagine what they’ve got in their attic.
Well, maybe not. The instruments, costumes and other 3-D artifacts are stored in a vault or stashed off-site. But the papers, photos and recordings are in an enormous four-story building 2 miles away. Can’t miss it: You can see the huge Hall of Fame logo and the “Library & Archives” sign from Interstate 77.
And you shouldn’t miss it: This is where rock ’n’ roll (artifacts) will never die.
It costs $22 to see all the cool stuff at the famous rock hall downtown. But no admission is charged at the Library & Archives.
If your devotion to a band runs deep, you can get a research card free of charge: A staffer will go back into the stacks and bring the materials you request out to the Archives Reading Room for you. That room holds turntables, plus cassette, CD and video players. Tip: Schedule an appointment and indicate what you want to see or hear to cut your wait time.
That’s on the first floor, the only level open to the public. Besides the Archives Reading Room, there’s a spacious and relaxing public reading room where shelves hold 7,000 rock-related books, magazines and journals.
Touring authors also have speaking engagements here. While you need to RSVP, those events are also free.
Andy Leach looks like a 40-year-old musician and is one – he plays guitar in New Soft Shoe, a Gram Parsons tribute band in Cleveland. He’s also a University of Illinois music history/library sciences grad who has been the Library & Archives director since 2009 – before this building opened.
The large keychain at his hip opens doors and staff elevators to where the good stuff is stored:
• 200 or 300 rare and signed books.
• “Thousands of linear feet of boxes of papers,” he said.
• Music collections in a variety of formats that have been donated by record labels, the concert industry, radio stations, artists and managers. Leach says the inventory of individual and box-set CDs alone currently numbers about 15,000 items, still in the process of being cataloged.
Incoming items are numbered, described, cross-referenced and given bar codes. This upfront work is comprehensive – materials have to be readily available for academics as well as curators down at the museum. About 20 items per day are fully processed. For papers, “about a linear foot per day.”
Then the donations are taken to storage rooms where the temperature is a uniform 68 degrees and relative humidity is locked at 45 percent. The climate is controlled by twin air systems that alternate; if one goes down, the other serves as backup.
The brightly lighted chambers have a state-of-the-art bunker look, with mobile shelving that opens and closes and moves across spotless cement floors with a click and whir. This keeps things tidy and keeps the ravages of time at bay. The room that holds periodicals contains more than 1,500 titles, whether one-shot fanzines or long-running publications; there’s a complete clip file of Rolling Stone magazines.
Nearby is the Image Digitalization Lab where documents and photos are copied for digital preservation. At the AV Digital Lab, old-style audiotapes are copied onto computer discs.
The coolest things may be the carefully labeled boxes of donations. There are 30 that contain the papers of the late Art Collins, who ran Rolling Stones Records and was perhaps best known as the personal manager of punk icon Iggy Pop.
There’s the Bomp collection of live concerts – aging bootleg cassettes donated by Greg Shaw, who edited a fanzine called Bomp in the 1970s.
One shelf holds the personal LP collection of Ahmet Ertegun (1923-2006), who founded Atlantic Records in the 1940s and set the stage for the rise of R&B.
Remember the late Doug Fieger? He was lead singer of The Knack and the band member who wrote its 1979 mega-hit “My Sharona.” His boxes contain well-organized manilla folders about gigs, tunes and more.
Some artifacts on display at the hall/museum are loaned; everything here is donated. Art Garfunkel’s boxes include a grade-school composition book of math homework penciled in excruciatingly precise penmanship.
Not all the stuff here is donated by live or dead rock personalities. Near the Garfunkel-iana are boxes donated by Beverly Smith that relate to her daughter, artist-poet and proto-punk star Patti.
Elsewhere, flat metal cases open to reveal concert posters, print proofs of album jackets and more. One drawer Leach opened held the architectural blueprints for Hollywood’s Gold Star Studio, where legendary early ’60s producer Phil Spector created “wall of sound” recordings.
Some files are restricted, however, like the tax returns in the six or seven boxes donated by the still-kicking Scotty Moore, Elvis’ famed guitarist and a Hall of Fame inductee. “His Social Security number is on the forms, and we just can’t give that out,” Leach said.
Great care is taken when items are shuttled between the Library & Archives and the hall/museum, where documents are worked into displays. Shipments are handled by the same firm that gingerly transports items to and from the Cleveland Museum of Art.
As a music historian, does Leach come in on Saturdays just to poke through stuff? Does it lead to wasted-but-fun downtime when he’s on the clock?
Saturdays are for at home with family; the workweek is too hectic for idle browsing, Leach says, even with four interns lined up to help.
Leach: “We’ll never get done.”
If you go
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Library & Archives building is at 2809 Woodland Ave., Cleveland, on the campus of the Cuyahoga Community College, about 2 miles southeast of the HOF and museum.
Details (including catalog, research guides): 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday (library only). www.library.rockhall.com/home.
Story topics: one tank trips