Seattle Area Archivists Tour the Living Computers Museum + Labs

Guest post by Ryan Anthony Donaldson

On December 21st, the Living Computers Museum + Labs (LCM+L) hosted over 20 members of the Seattle Area Archivists (SeArch) for the year-end business meeting. Amelia Roberts, LCM+L Archivist, and Dorian Bowen, Media Archivist, also led the group on an informative behind-the-scenes tour of the museum’s archives & collections.

SeArch meeting

The SeArch group at the LCM+L meeting space. Photo courtesy Ryan Anthony Donaldson.

Amelia began by providing an overview of the museum and its activities. Founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, LCM+L engages visitors by providing opportunities to directly interact with vintage technology. The LCM+L collection includes approximately 35,000 catalogued items, comprising of equipment of all sizes, hardware and software, and critical technical documentation such as manuals and drawings. One key function of the archives is to support the LCM+L engineering team for a number of restoration projects. The archives team actively acquires more materials for the ever-growing collection.

In 2016, the museum expanded, adding an additional floor along with flexible lab spaces. Today, visitors can operate the earliest of Apple computers, gaming consoles such as the Atari 400 and Commodore 64, and IBM computers. Other models on display include a dual cassette deck created by a hobbyist as part of the “Homebrew Computer Club.” The interactivity extends beyond the museum, as anyone can request a guest account from LCM+L to remotely access early operating systems. To apply, visit the LCM+L website.

The group toured the archives storage, and marveled at the breadth of the collections, particularly the wide variety of large mainframe computers, along with peripherals. In addition, there are neatly arranged shelves full with programming and gaming software, still in the original packaging, spanning decades. Iconic games such as Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? stood alongside more obscure titles.

One of the tour highlights was stopping by the engineer’s workshop space and meeting one of the engineers, Keith Perez, restoring a Bendix G-15 mainframe computer. LCM+L employs 3 engineers to manage the aging fleet of machines that are made available for public use. Creative solutions have been crafted to meet the immense challenges involved, including manufacturing new parts with a 3d scanner based on specifications from the original manuals and other product literature! Read more about the Bendix B-15 on LCM+L’s Tumblr.

Bendix G-15 computer

Bendix G-15 from LCM+:L’s collection. Via the LCM+L Tumblr:

Amelia also explained how the collections are utilized for a number of exhibitions, including the current show From the garage to the iMac: 1976-1999. LCM+L also loans out selected items from the archives and fulfills research requests to support period television shows and movies, including Madmen and Halt and Catch Fire. More information about the collection can be accessed with the LCM+L Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC).

All of us with the SeArch group were impressed with the depth of the LCM+L collection and the efforts of the LCM+L archivists to engage with a variety of communities, whether visitors, at conferences and special events, or online. Thanks again to Amelia and all the LCM+L for hosting!