Digital Collections from the Library & Archives
The Strong’s Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play is a multidisciplinary research repository devoted to the intellectual, social, and cultural history of play. In addition to housing the personal library and papers of its preeminent namesake, the 220,000-volume research library and archives holds a full spectrum of primary and secondary sources, including scholarly works, professional journals, other periodicals, trade catalogs, children’s books, comic books, manuscripts, personal papers, business records, and more.
The Strong’s trade catalog collection includes more than 46,000 catalogs produced during the past 125 years from well-known and influential makers of toys, dolls, puzzles, and games such as Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Lionel, Kenner, Playskool, Atari, Hasbro, Mattel, and Fisher-Price. The collection also features examples from hundreds of smaller toy firms of the 20th century, many of which have not survived the corporate consolidations and mass-market retailing that shaped the toy industry in the past 40 years. Additional donors to the trade catalog collection include: the Link Group, Richard C. Levy, Anne Williams, Andrew Berton, Ron Dubren, Ken Brand, Ernie Bridge, Darwin Bromley, GUND, Inc., and the Association for Games and Puzzles International (AGPI).
In 2018, The Strong was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to catalog and digitize part of the trade catalog collection. From December 2018 through November 2019, the library team cataloged and rehoused 5,026 trade catalogs and digitized 2,337 catalogs, focusing on catalogs published before 1960.
Over the years, The Strong has collected various oral history interviews of play-related topics, including recollections about the museum’s founder, Margaret Woodbury Strong; memories of dolls and other playthings; stories from former toy and game company staff members; and more. The Brian Sutton-Smith Library & Archives of Play will make collections of these oral history projects accessible online to researchers as digitization occurs. These include:
- The Women in Games initiative at The Strong began in 2017 as a key program of the museum’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), building upon The Strong’s already extensive holdings of more than 60,000 video game-related artifacts and more than 1,000 linear feet of physical archival records (including design documents, marketing materials, correspondence, presentations, photographs, and more) that tell the history of video games. The Women in Games initiative shares the ever-evolving story of women’s contributions to the video game industry. Photographs, audio recordings, and transcripts from the Women in Games events in 2018-2019 are now available to researchers across the globe.
- The Doll Oral History Project collection is a compilation of oral history audio cassettes, transcripts, photographs, reports, and other documentation on this project from Summer/Fall 1987, administered by consultant Dorothy Washburn for the Margaret Woodbury Strong Museum. This project selected the museum’s doll collection as stimuli to prompt memories from women who had played with dolls between 1900 and 1940. With funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, Washburn conducted a four-month series of interviews with 97 area women. Participants were interviewed in front of a display containing a selection of dolls from the decade during which they played with dolls. They were asked to identify dolls that were similar or identical to their own playthings and asked how they played with them. Then, the women were asked to sort a series of photographs two ways: by the dolls which they preferred and disliked, and by the way they thought of the dolls during play. Many participants also brought their own dolls to the museum and were able to share family photographs for the museum’s reference. The digitized transcripts of the oral history interviews (and associated indexes) are accessible online.
- The Parker Brothers Oral History Project collection is a compilation of audio recordings and transcripts. These interviews were originally conducted by Professor John J. Fox of Salem State College (now, University) in November and December 1986 as part of his research on the Parker Brothers Company of Salem, Massachusetts. (Fox published the article “Parker Pride: Memories of Working Days at Parker Brothers” in the April 1987 issue of Essex Institute Historical Collections.) Fox later made and distributed copies of the audiocassette recordings from these interviews, signing letters of transfer for these audiocassette recordings to be made public for research purposes. Staff at The Strong transcribed the audio interviews in 2020 and transcripts of the oral history interviews are now available online.
- The Toys for Bob collection, which contains original documentation related to the development and production of character figures for Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure (2011), also holds video oral history interviews with staff members from Toys for Bob. These interviews are available here.
- Dr. Annelise Heinz, a historian of modern America, has been researching and writing about mahjong for more than a decade. In 2021, her book Mahjong: A Chinese Game and the Making of Modern American Culture, was published. Dr. Heinz has donated dozens of digital audiorecordings of interviews she conducted with contributors to her research on mahjong in America. The Mahjong Oral History Collection is available online for researchers and mahjong enthusiasts alike.
- In 1989, oral historian Mia Boynton conducted a series of interviews with people who had known or worked for Margaret and Homer Strong during their lifetimes; the interviews and related materials constitute the Margaret Woodbury Strong Oral History Project, housed within Margaret’s papers in the archives. The audiorecordings of these interviews are available online.
- The Strong continually records Video Oral History Interviews with people associated with the toy, doll, game, video game, and pinball industries, as well as people in the field of play and play studies. Other interviews may include memories of Margaret Woodbury Strong, Rochester history, and play during childhood. These video oral histories will be made available here on Preservica within a month of their original recording. Oral history interviews and associated transcripts are available here.
The Brian Sutton-Smith Library & Archives of Play will make certain digital collections accessible online to researchers whenever possible. Recent digitization projects from the archives have included scanning the George S. Parker diaries (part of the Parker family papers, 1856-1949) and the creation of The Sid Sackson Portal.