Public Employee Press
Activist and archivist
At the Queens Central Library, the Local 1321
member helps visitors discover historical gems from Long Islands
By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Take a pop quiz:
Is John Hyslop
(a) a librarian,
(b) an historian,
(c) an archivist,
(d) a union activist, or
(e) all of the above?
If you chose (e), youre right.
And if you add that Hyslop, a Supervising Librarian, is married without
children and outside of work plays vintage baseball, youre well
on your way to rounding out a picture of the Queens Library Guild Local
Im an information professional, Hyslop said wryly, borrowing
a description that library schools like to bestow upon their graduates.
You want to find something, Ill help you do it.
Hyslop is the assistant manager of the Long Island Division at the Queens
Central Library, 89-11 Merrick Blvd., in Jamaica.
There, along with five other Local 1321 members, Hyslop oversees a treasure
trove of archival material that documents the social, economic and political
history of the four counties of Long Island Kings (Brooklyn), Queens,
Nassau and Suffolk.
Tucked away in the stacks at the archives, you can find the most extensive
public collection of New York Mets memorabilia in the country, a collection
of the areas local newspapers dating back to the 19th century, U.S.
Census records from 1790 to 1930, countless telephone books, land surveys
and 57,000 digitized photos going back to the 1860s. Its collection of
maps alone provides a history of 20th -century Long Island.
During Black History Month in February, the division is busy with visitors
who want to learn about African-American inventor and poet Lewis H. Latimer
from the librarys extensive collection of his work. Latimer collaborated
with Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison and developed the process
for manufacturing carbon filament light bulbs, making the widespread use
of electric lighting possible. Hyslop earned his masters degree
in library and information science at the University of Texas in Austin;
as an undergraduate, he majored in history with a concentration in U.S.
His background in archival studies and history makes Hyslop a natural
fit at the Long Island Division, where he helps schoolchildren learn about
their neighborhoods, assists retired firefighters trying to find out about
others who died while battling blazes, works with developers tracking
down land surveys and guides people researching their family genealogy.
His interest in labor goes beyond the academic: Hes active in Local
1321, for which he serves as a shop steward and executive vice president.
Researchers who regularly visit the archives include Pulitzer Prize-winning
author Robert A. Caro, historian Vincent Seyfied, whos an expert
on Queens and the Long Island Railroad, and the creators of HBO documentaries.
Hyslop is now assisting Dept. of Environment Protection officials who
are studying local land records as they search for a solution to the loss
of marshlands of the Rockaway peninsula.
Hyslop jokes that he has enough to keep himself busy at the Long Island
Division until his retirement, decades away. But when he details the thoroughness
of his work, you readily understand why hed say that. When not directly
helping the public, he spends hours upon hours cataloging, organizing
and storing documents. In his free time, he plays vintage baseball (pre-1900
style, with old fashioned uniforms and small, thin gloves) with friends.
He acknowledges that the archives are weak in their documentation of the
new immigrants to Queens in recent years, particularly the experiences
of Chinese and Indian newcomers to the United States.
We are going to start an informational campaign to reach out to
community groups, Hyslop said. We want to emphasize how important
it is that people preserve their records and help them learn how to store
their historical material.