Almanac archives find new home in Portola Valley


Click on photos to enlarge and see captions.

By Dave Boyce

Almanac Staff Writer

The Almanac and the town of Portola Valley have a shared history. The town was incorporated in 1965, the same year the Almanac published its first issue. For its first few months of existence, the paper's founders assembled it at a Portola Valley kitchen table.

So it may be fitting that the Almanac's archives, bound volumes of old newspapers dating from the first issues up to 2003, have a new home in the Community Heritage Center in the Portola Valley library.

(The first several years are not bound, but are available in flat files in a side room.)

The archives include print photos, boxes of negatives organized by publication date for papers issued between April 1975 and March 2000, and a card catalog with references to stories and photos.

For years, this material was stored at the Almanac offices. "We were running out of space and (Portola Valley Historian) Nancy Lund gracefully offered to take the archives," Almanac Publisher Tom Gibboney said in an interview. "She actually has done a lot of work on them that we never had the time to do."

"The town and the Almanac are almost the same age," Ms. Lund told the Almanac in an interview at the library. "It sort of makes a nice place for them if they can't be where they truly belong."

Asked to comment on the notion that the Almanac archives belonged in the Almanac offices, Mr. Gibboney said that Ms. Lund and her crew of volunteers "are much better custodians of these archives than we were, and (the archives) are much more usable."

While the card catalogs are in varying degrees of completeness, the collection of negatives appears to be missing only those photographs not taken by longtime Almanac photographer Carol Ivie, who died in 2005.

"There's just a mystery because sometimes the negative is not there," Ms. Lund said. "The only guess we have is that it was not taken by an Almanac photographer."

"They are just wonderfully organized," she added. "Every little folder has a date on it of the issue of the paper."

There are print photos, too, hundreds of them that had been stored in Almanac file cabinets, more than a few without names. Ms. Lund said she sought help in identifying them from her counterparts Thalia Lubin of Woodside, Marion Oster of Atherton, and Frank Helfrich of Menlo Park.

"I dragged them in here to take a look," she said. "We consider it to be a rare and wonderful treasure, I can tell you."

Ms. Lund said she plans one last attempt, with veteran Almanac staff writers Marion Softky and Marjorie Mader, to identify the unidentified.

New labels

Of the bound volumes, each of which weighs maybe 20 pounds, the black covers have held up but the original labels had been showing their age. The new labels resurrect the paper's original name, the Country Almanac, an adjective that lives on in the minds of many in the circulation area but which was formally dropped years ago in favor of "The Almanac."

Removing the labels sometimes involved solvents, she said, and they worked to not discolor the black book covers. Asked how much time it took to replace them, Ms. Lund sighed and said, "Oh, a lot."

The volumes sit in shelves of blond wood, like the rest of the shelving in the room. Tor Lund, Ms. Lund's husband, and Jim Lipman, another Portola Valley resident, followed the ethic of the library's construction and built the shelves from sustainably harvested wood, Ms. Lund said.

The shelves sit on the floor along a wall. The first plan had the shelves hanging off the wall, she said, but visitors would have had to climb a ladder to get to them, a building inspector would have had to approve the plans, and it might have cost $2,000.

In its current form, it was a $300 project. Mr. Lund and Mr. Lipman donated their labor, Ms. Lund said.

Back in the day, people read only by means of words on paper. Today, there are viewing screens of great variety, and visual clarity that approaches the quality of print. Should the archives be digitized? Almanac text near the bindings is nearly impossible to read and truly impossible to photocopy.

The idea of an online archive came up at a May 2010 Town Council meeting but went essentially nowhere.

Redwood City archives include printed newspapers that go back to the 19th century, Ms. Lund noted. "They're fine," she said. "They're bound and they're fine. I hope that these will be as well."

How to use the Almanac archives

How a Woodside resident used the archives

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