A Visit to the Northwest Architectural Archives
Minneapolis is home to the Northwest Architectural Archives, located in the Elmer L. Andersen Library on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota. The Archives are an excellent resource for information on many buildings, architects, engineers and construction firms, with a huge collection of records pertaining to work performed in Minnesota and the surrounding region. Because of this, whenever I am performing historic research on a building I make sure to check with the Archives for material related to the building.
Locating materials in the Archives is not as simple as a quick Google search; fortunately there are resources available to aid researchers. The website for the archives (linked above) offers a catalog search, as well as an index of finding aids. I turn to these first because they are fast and easy to use, however they do not contain the entire collection. I have found Barbara Bezat, Assistant Archivist at the Northwest Architectural Archives, to be very helpful and knowledgeable regarding materials in the archives and research on historic subjects.
The collections of the Archives are housed in a massive underground storage facility at the University of Minnesota. The library storage facility is not open to the public; therefore materials must be retrieved by staff. After conferring with Barbara about materials that I am looking for, she takes care of the retrieval process and schedules a time for me to view them.
Due to the rare and delicate nature of the materials in the archives, they are only available for viewing at a monitored reading room located at the archives. With the permission of Barbara, non-flash photos are allowed to be taken of the material; however the Archives will produce professional quality copies for a nominal fee if requested. I am always somewhat nervous when I am handling the materials. The paper is often quite brittle after 100 years, so it takes a lot of care not to damage them. Plus, the items are often one-of-a-kind, so there is no recourse if they are destroyed.
Despite the extra effort and care required to retrieve these materials, my visits to the Archives have paid off with useful information or supporting materials that have aided my research. I am very grateful to have this valuable resource available free to the public.