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The Walt Disney Archives: Preserving the House of the Mouse

Old books

The Walt Disney Archives: Preserving the House of the Mouse

What are you doing to preserve your history, improve your present and … ensure your future?

Who wouldn’t get a smile on their face when looking at one of the actual wooden carousel horses used in the movie “Mary Poppins?” Who wouldn’t get a bit introspective when looking at a movie script from one of the Disney live-action classics? Better yet, this script has notes scribbled in the margins, in red pencil, offering suggestions for improving the scene—notes written by Walt Disney himself.

Dave Smith, the “Walt Disney” of History: Walt is known as a great visionary. Visionaries see things before other do. Here’s another visionary we can all learn from: Dave Smith. The world is in love with all things linked to Disney: Walt’s personal history, the original idea for Mickey Mouse, how the Disney Studio and Disneyland came to be … even Disney collectibles. We can all thank one person for the meticulous preservation of Disney history, Dave Smith.  Now retired, Dave Smith-Chief Archivist Emeritus, is the founder of the Walt Disney Archives.

Dave, fresh out of UC Berkeley with a Master’s Degree in Library Science in hand, spent over a year at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., both as an intern and as an employee. His work there, plus five more years at the UCLA University Research Library, more than prepared him for his eventual role at Disney. According to Dave, “I worked in virtually every area at the Library of Congress; from manuscripts, music, rare books, and cataloging, to  prints & photographs.”  Dave even got the job of hunting down the prints (copies) of films that every studio was obligated to send to the Library of Congress. While at UCLA, Dave completed a Disney bibliography that the Disney company purchased. At the same time, the UCLA Library had discussions with Disney about UCLA archiving Walt Disney’s papers. That never worked out at UCLA, but during that process, Dave saw the need for archiving not only papers, but all things Disney. So he wrote a proposal to Disney management recommending they start an archive at their headquarters, the Disney Studio. Dave’s memo got the attention of one very influential man, Roy O. Disney, Walt’s brother. So, the rest is, shall we say, history?

Learn from the Past, Move into the Future: Dave got the job as Chief Archivist in 1970 and the results of his many years of finely-tuned sleuthing and cataloging skills are nothing short of stunning; the Disney Archives is full of amazing displays showcasing Disney’s history, plus many more in storage. Over the years he and his staff collected, catalogued and archived thousands of valuable artifacts. And, besides the historical value of the archived items, Dave is a firm believer in the power of the past and how it can influence the present and the future. For example, shortly after the grand opening of Walt Disney World in 1971, Dave set up archival displays in the building where the new employees were going to be trained—at the Disney University. Dave and the training team knew the power of those displays and how they would add to the level of employee pride and excitement … and they were right. Over the years, one of the key messages shared with newly-hired employees at the Disney University has been: “We feel you must know who you are (where you came from) before you can go to the future.” Without a doubt, Dave is a master historian who is also quite the visionary; his business acumen is as sharp as his cataloging skills. He is also the author of numerous books that address the history of Disney—the man, as well as the company.

Unfortunately, the Disney Archives isn’t open to the public … all the more reason to visit the Treasures from the Walt Disney Archives at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It opens July 6, 2012 and closes in April, 2013:http://www.reaganfoundation.org/

What are you doing to preserve your history, improve your present and … ensure your future?