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PEP Oct. 2005
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Public Employee Press

John Hyslop:
Activist and archivist

At the Queens Central Library, the Local 1321 member helps visitors discover historical gems from Long Island’s four counties.

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), you’re right.

And if you add that Hyslop, a Supervising Librarian, is married without children and outside of work plays vintage baseball, you’re well on your way to rounding out a picture of the Queens Library Guild Local 1321 member.

“I’m an information professional,” Hyslop said wryly, borrowing a description that library schools like to bestow upon their graduates. “You want to find something, I’ll 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.

Historical gems
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 area’s 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 library’s 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 master’s 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. labor history.

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: He’s active in Local 1321, for which he serves as a shop steward and executive vice president.

Community outreach
Researchers who regularly visit the archives include Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert A. Caro, historian Vincent Seyfied, who’s 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 he’d 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.”

 

 

 
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