A Librarian in New Orleans: Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archive

My recent trip back to New Orleans wasn’t only about po’boys and Abita beer. It was partly a professional trip to learn a little more about some of the city’s unique library and archive collections. During the trip I visited Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archive, the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, and the city’s Notarial Archive.


07-28-10_1505Tulane’s Southeastern Architectural Archive (SEAA) is one of the largest repositories of architectural records in the southern United States. It’s housed in Jones Hall, Tulane’s special collections building which also holds the university’s Louisiana Research Collection and the Jazz Archives.

The SEAA contains a large collection of historic New Orleans Sanborn Maps and city directories dating back to the 1880s, and contains 07-28-10_1437numerous collections of architectural plans from many of the region’s prominent architects. One of the most interesting things at the SEAA are plans and sketches from the firms that designed and built many of the city’s iconic above-ground tombs and mausoleums. These firms, according to Keli Rylance, Head Archivist of the SEAA, would consult with their clients (families or estates) to customize the design of these often elaborate grave sites.

07-28-10_1322The SEAA has had a huge increase in usage in post-Katrina New Orleans. According to Keli many of the new users are people coming to access historic architectural plans to research their properties or homes that were destroyed during Katrina. Many of the new patrons, says Keli, are also law firms and attorneys who are doing research to settle property disputes. The SEAA now serves approximately 1200 visitors each year. Next door to the SEAA are Tulane’s Jazz Archives. Here’s a picture of some vintage audio equipment in the Jazz Archives.


07-28-10_1330At the Howard-Tilton Memorial Library I got a quick tour from my friend Anthony D. who works in the library. The Howard-Tilton Library is the university’s main library and it was pretty heavily damaged during Katrina. Pre-Katrina the basement used to house offices and collections, and when you go downstairs you can still see the flood water line which still stained on the building’s marble walls about 8 feet above the floor. Since Katrina the library’s been undergoing a major renovation and reorganization–the library now does not store any materials in its basement. Here’s an item that I particularly enjoyed. It’s from a display of Cuban materials in the library’s Latin American collection.

.Stay tuned for Part 2 of “A Librarian in New Orleans: The New Orleans Notarial Archive”

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