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L.A. Unfolded

Glen Creason '78 Oversees One of the Country's Largest Map Collections

Aug. 5, 2013

When the position for map librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library's Central Library opened up 24 years ago, Glen Creason '78 (M.S. library science) was the only applicant. He had to be talked into applying, and knew so little about maps when he got the job that scale – the measurement on every map showing its ratio of distance – had to be explained to him.

Today, Creason is a recognized map expert and author of the critically acclaimed book "Los Angeles in Maps." He is supervising the Central Library's archiving of a recently donated historic map collection that is considered a priceless find.

Creason, who has worked at the library for a total of 32 years, said the worth of the 2012 donation of the John Feathers collection – a treasure trove of rare maps and archival materials discovered in a packed Mt. Washington cottage that was due to be demolished – is incalculable.

It includes volumes of atlases, stacks of folding maps, street maps from throughout the nation and more, for a total of 220 cartons and 600 feet of library shelving. That's two football fields of library shelves, not including foldout maps, which had been contained in the 948-square-foot home.

As the library's map specialist, Creason received a vague telephone request to visit "a house full of maps" by real estate broker Matt Greenberg. Indeed, when he arrived, maps were everywhere – every kind of map, crowded on every surface. Where there would normally be cookbooks, beautiful atlases lined the cupboards; the den downstairs featured wall-to-wall street guides.

"When I entered the kitchen and saw pristine Rennie and Thomas street guides, I was lightheaded," he recalled. Later that night, he couldn't sleep for excitement. Now, each day is like a treasure hunt as he and his staff and a team of volunteers sort and painstakingly archive the materials, which ultimately will be made available to libraries nationwide.

It's all part of a day's work for Creason, who originally studied to become a librarian because of an active interest in the opposite sex.

He was unemployed in the 1970s, living in South Gate and, too poor to buy anything, would spend free time at the local library. "There were two beautiful librarians working there, a blonde and a brunette," he recalled. "It seemed like a good job where you were surrounded by women."

Graduating shortly before the passage of Prop. 13, which meant library layoffs rather than hires, Creason worked for two years as a librarian at the Herald Examiner. He was hired first as a children's librarian in San Dimas and then by the Central Library's history department in 1979. He learned about maps on the job.

After decades as map librarian, Creason sees both his 2010 book and the 2008-2009 exhibit "L.A. Unfolded" as his legacy. He has spent hours in research with the late Huell Howser, whom he found as enthusiastic with the cameras off as when they are on. He has met Diane Keaton, George McGovern, Jodie Foster, August Wilson and Denzel Washington, among many others. And he continues to love answering patrons' questions, which range from the bizarre to the fascinating.

"Maps tell a story and can explain a lot," he said. For instance, he added, maps tell why Los Angeles is a city spread apart and Boyle Heights is a cultural melting pot. "Maps answer all those questions, and tell what direction a city or country has gone. Pictorial maps draw tourists and show how a city wants to portray itself; in the 1950s, Los Angeles was portrayed as a Garden of Eden, when, in fact, there was a murder every day."

He doesn't plan to retire for a while, since his daughter is headed back to college. "I like being a know-it-all," he said. "I love answering questions."

By: Cathi Douglas, 657-278-4850

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