Sooner or later, many foxhunters travel to Middleburg, Virginia, to shop and tour the museum galleries at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Sometimes overlooked at the six-acre campus, the Library offers a tremendous collection related to country pursuits through its general stacks, rare book holdings, and archival materials. John Connolly, the NSLM's George L. Ohrstrom, Jr., Librarian, works as part of a small team of librarians, curators, educators and others to manage these resources and share them with the sporting community. "What we are is a reflection of the people who have been part of that community," he said.
Illustration from Shokuba Ko, Sanshodo: Matoba Katsumi, 1858. National Sporting Library & Museum, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.
The Library's holdings primarily span equestrian sports, wing shooting, and fly fishing. Its more than 28,000 catalogued volumes include not only books, but also photographs, journals, diaries, periodicals, other documents and digital collections. Connolly believes the NSLM ranks in the top five publicly accessible collections on fly fishing, with more than 2,500 volumes on that topic alone. The materials, nearly all donated, cover 400 years of outdoor sport - the oldest book is a handwritten manuscript dating to 1523. "What we have in our collections is what people in these sports have had to say," Connolly said, "As curators and educators, our concerns are universal: We all love the sport, and we are worried about what the future holds for it. Our role is to preserve and promote its cultural aspects."
Connolly joined the NSLM three years ago, after earning his Master's Degree in Library and Information Studies at Alabama and working for 10 years as a contract cataloguer and library software instructor. While no two days are exactly the same, he spends much of his time responding to research requests. "There's more demand than one might expect," he said, adding that approximately 2,000 researchers visited the Library in 2016, and the staff handled more than 400 specific research requests. "We serve two main groups," Connolly said, "The first is casual visitors, including tourists to Middleburg, who might visit the Museum and then wander over to the Library. The other half of our audience includes guests looking for certain books or articles, or doing family research, who need assistance from the librarians."
Expanding and publicizing the NSLM's programs is a priority. The staff rotate contributing posts to the NSLM blog, maintain up-to-date information on the website, and have developed an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter (@NSLM1954), Tumblr, and Instagram (@nationalsportinglm). Connolly said, "We're trying to break through and let people know how fascinating our collections are."
Riding to Hounds on Long Island, Theodore Roosevelt. Original hand-written manuscript (with edits), 1886. National Sporting Library & Museum, F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.
As an example of a unique Library item, Connolly describes a handwritten essay on foxhunting by Teddy Roosevelt. Titled "Riding to Hounds on Long Island," the original 1886 document includes the future president's edits and signature. A recent blog entry featured a 1905 article from the Thoroughbred Record about John Porter, a 75-year-old jockey and trainer in Kentucky. The NSLM's most-read blog post covered an equine influenza outbreak in Boston that sidelined the fire department's horses, indirectly contributing to massive losses when an ordinary fire burned out of control.
To plan a visit, check the NSLM website or call ahead: 540-687-6542. The buildings are open Wednesday through Sunday, and admission is free on Wednesdays and the last Sunday every month. Library tours may be scheduled to visit the rare book room and see unique items in the collections. The Museum will host two major loan exhibitions in 2017. From the end of April into August, "Andre Pater: In a Sporting Light" will present works by the contemporary Polish equine artist. From September into early 2018, "The Horse in Ancient Greek Art," organized by NSLM and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, will showcase equestrian themes across a variety of classical vases and sculpture.