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Museum Profile

San Diego Automotive Museum

Part 2: The Library

By Jeremy Wilson

The library at the San Diego Automotive Museum contains many thousands of documents including more than 3000 automobile books, 2500 repair manuals, and 13,000 car-club newsletters and car-club magazines.

Volunteer Larry Okey says the library has 113 different titles of retail car magazines. “We haven’t done a count for the magazines, but it’s in the thousands...many thousands. Some of the older magazines were a lot thinner before advertising, so the storage boxes might have 20-30 magazines per box. The new magazines, which are much thicker, probably have 12-15 issues per box.

As you can see in the photo, the magazine boxes run the length of multiple shelved aisles and from the floor to the ceiling. The magazines and newsletters are organized alphabetically while the automobile books are catalogued using the Dewey Decimal System. The library staff will retrieve any books and historical documents for museum visitors.

“I’ll bring anything up you want to read,” says Okey. “I’ve had authors come in to do research for their books. One that comes to mind was a fellow who wrote a book on Mercury muscle cars and Mercury race cars. He came in for two weeks, several days a week, and took pictures and notes from our books and magazines. Of course, he had to edit it all together into his book. About a year later, I received his book in the mail and he’d autographed it. David Newhart was his name.”

In addition to the books, newsletters, and magazines, the library has a huge inventory of repair manuals (dating back to 1911), sales brochures, DVD’s of car related movies, VHS tapes and CDs.

“This whole back wall is automobile sales brochures,” states Okey. We keep the best example of everything in brown boxes. Above are the duplicates, in white boxes. We sell the duplicates if people want to purchase them.”

Okey notes that the library is staffed by volunteers and its entire collection has been donated. For those who would like to donate photographs, he has a suggestion: “People take a lot of pictures of races and bring us the pictures when they get tired of them. We have about 10,000 photographs, but unfortunately, many of them aren’t identified. I tell everybody, when you take pictures, put something on the back; at least a date, the year, and if you can, the name of the people and the car. We often have people come in saying, ‘This is my grandfather standing in front of his car. What kind of car is it? What year is it?’ If it’s a side shot of a pre-1930 car it can be difficult to identify because so many were the same shape. But if the front or the back is showing, we can usually get some kind of a clue. We like to help and sometimes we’ll spend an hour or two trying to figure out what it is.”

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