Local History Hits Big in Japan!

Mono Cover

Move over, Norma Desmond, it’s time for the Local History Division’s closeup! There isn’t much glitz or glamor to be found here at the library, but once in a while we’re fortunate to have the spotlight shine on the variety of materials in our collection. Here in Local History, helping researchers find information that isn’t available anywhere else is our specialty, and it’s always fun to see someone’s reaction when they encounter something in our collections that until that point had eluded them. One researcher found a tiny detail in the minutes of a meeting that took place in 1927 that confirmed a longtime theory of his—a discovery that wouldn’t have happened if the records of that organization hadn’t been preserved or described in a finding aid.

Sometimes, people will even cross oceans in order to find what they need from our collections. People like Eriko Sugimoto.

Eriko works for Mono magazine. “Mono” is a Japanese word that can be loosely translated as “stuff.” And Mono sure has a lot of stuff. Essentially a publication devoted to Western brands, Mono is heavy on the visuals, with pictures of watches, bags, coats, and all manner of clothing and shoes accompanied by logos bedecking each glossy page. Eriko, one of the magazine’s editors, was in charge of putting together a section for an upcoming “Master Book of Authentic American Brand” special issue with an emphasis on Champion Products. She asked what resources we had on the company. After a thorough search of our collections, I contacted her to tell her what I had found, which wasn’t a whole lot, I thought.

“Do you think it’s enough to make it worth a trip to Rochester?” she asked.

That was a tough call. Had she been coming from say, Livingston County, I would have said maybe. But Japan? I didn’t want to encourage a research trip to the other side of the globe if it wasn’t going to be fruitful. So my goal was to get her as much information as I could so that she could decide whether or not to make the trip. Our clipping files provided some background on the history of the company, which began operations in 1919 on St. Paul Boulevard as Knickerbocker Knitting Mills. Not surprisingly, Eriko was particularly interested in any graphics or images that we might have of Champion products through the years. Digging into our pamphlet file collection, I found several advertising pieces which I took pictures of and e-mailed to Eriko. I also found some annual reports in the general collection. It wasn’t much. She thanked me for the information.

A few weeks later, Eriko called and said she’d be coming to Rochester with several colleagues to look at what we had. As is the custom in Japan, she arrived bearing gifts for the staff; a box filled with green tea-flavored KitKat bars, a Japanese specialty.

Japanese ingenuity at its best.

Japanese ingenuity at its best.

She was accompanied by Teruhiko Doi, Mono’s Editorial Director, Daisuke Takeuchi, Marketing Services Manager for Hanesbrands Japan, and a photographer. They were some of the most gracious and friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. We spent the afternoon at one of the large wooden tables in the division, sifting through newspaper articles and using old city directories to trace the company’s history. Since Eriko’s English was stronger than that of her companions, she translated various bits of information I pointed out to the two men. (A vigorous game of charades ensued when Eriko left briefly to put money in the meter.)

Two-and-a-half months later, Eriko sent me the result: A glorious spread on the company’s origins in Rochester featuring materials found here in the Local History Division, and a picture of the library to boot. Have a look. (Click on images to enlarge.)

Letter

Mono1

They even made a Japanese logo for us!

Mono2

Note the hip, new spelling of "Knickerbocker," the company's original name.

Note the hip, new spelling of “Knickerbocker,” the company’s original name.

~Cheri Crist, Librarian/Archivist

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Published in: on November 7, 2014 at 4:07 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for sharing this interesting and colorful (literally) story. It makes me wonder about the role of crowd sourcing in such situations. When is it appropriate to reach out to the community to see if there are other materials available to share with people coming to Rochester to do research, or perhaps knowledge of family members still living in the area. Does such a phenomenon exist locally? Is your office the appropriate agency to initiate such a thing? Thanks!

    • That’s a great idea! I’m just unsure of how that would work. I don’t know of any such effort to crowdsource reference and research in the area, although people (myself included) have utilized RRLC’s listerv in the past to pick the collective brains of information professionals. I’ve often referred researchers to additional repositories that I think might be able to help; since the researcher knows best what he/she is looking for, I feel it makes sense for them to contact the institutions themselves. Oftentimes, their research will take a new and different direction according to the resources available to them.

  2. I am just so tickled for you. How exciting!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • Thanks, Amy! We’re pretty excited too. 🙂

  3. As a retired archivist or pre and post Internet eras, I wish to comment. As so many archives and databases now have online cataloging, one would think that researchers would check all resources before long distance trips, however, there is no substitute for local knowledge about local subjects. It would have been kind on the archivist’s part if she had perhaps suggested other local archives with supporting material. And she may have done that…

    • Hello Barb. I did suggest another repository, but Eriko and her team were very happy with what they found here and didn’t feel the need to pursue another avenue of research.


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