By Michael Baadke
The American Philatelic Research Library is a resource like no other for stamp collectors and postal historians
That spectacular facility — one of the largest philatelic libraries in the world —recently moved from temporary quarters to its handsome new home within the American Philatelic Center in Bellefonte, Pa., the reconverted former match factory that also houses the headquarters of the American Philatelic Society.
The library opened officially on Oct. 29 with a celebratory dinner the night before and a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Saturday morning.
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The events alone drew a few hundred visitors and dignitaries to the site, including David Beech, the former curator and head of philatelic collections at the British Library, and Ambassador Robert E. Lamb, who served as executive director of the APS during its headquarters move from State College, Pa., to its present home in Bellefonte, a transition that had its start in 2002.
Beech was the featured speaker at the Friday night dinner, addressing the subject of the digitization of library materials. He also reminisced about visiting the match factory complex with Lamb in 2001, when the property was in its most dismal state.
“The very place where the library now exists and is opened, we could see it had all of the possibilities, all of the majesty, all of that space then in its primitive state,” Beech said to the crowd.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be back here to congratulate you all on transforming that space from a mess, but a mess of possibilities, into a great philatelic library space. So I congratulate you all, APRL trustees, both current and past, the American Philatelic Society, the librarians across the years and current librarian Tara [Murray], and colleagues, helpers, volunteers, sponsors, and all who have contributed across the years.”
The two-story library contains more than 23,000 book titles and 5,700 journal titles, now safely settled in a quiet and comfortable environment that includes brick structural elements of the carefully restored old factory mingling with the advanced research tools of the 21st century.
Researchers are welcome to visit and take advantage of the comfortable study desks, many with views of the natural beauty of Bellefonte’s delightful Talleyrand Park.
A scanning center makes it possible to copy and story information digitally, while books and periodicals extending from the 19th century to the newest releases are neatly stored for easy access.
Additional items are kept in closed stacks, but library staff are available to help locate these materials when needed. The library holdings can be searched online with public access computers on either floor, or visitors’ own devices.
The library fills 19,000 square feet in the American Philatelic Center, part of the former match factory complex in central Pennsylvania. The factory thrived during the first half of the 20th century, closing in 1947 as cigarette lighters and book matches diminished the need for the wooden matches manufactured there.
The structure was vacant and in disrepair when it was purchased by the library in 2002.
After several years of renovation, the American Philatelic Center covers approximately 100,000 square feet and includes rental space for 11 business tenants.
The new library uses 19,000 square feet of space for shelving the world’s largest collection of philatelic literature.
“Open stacks beneath faux copper ceilings on two sides of the room hold the library’s books, government documents, exhibits, and show programs,” the APRL noted in its announcement of the library opening.
“At the back of the main floor, there’s a cozy reading lounge, conference table for group study, and a children’s area, all with large windows. The loft-style second floor is reached by a wide center staircase or a side elevator. The open stacks house the library’s journals and airmail collections. The second floor includes two more reading lounges and a carrel room with storage lockers for visiting researchers. Windows overlook Talleyrand Park.”
The facility also includes a shop on the main floor offering used and new books, gifts, and souvenirs.
The library is open to the public, though only APS members have borrowing privileges.
“Our world-class collections and services now have a world-class home,” said APRL Librarian Tara Murray. “I can’t wait to show it to our supporters and members.”
For more information about the library, visit online, or write to American Philatelic Research Library, 100 Match Factory Place, Bellefonte, PA 16823.