Just like I did for my recent rare book and beer pairing event, I wanted to share a few quick thoughts about the work I’ve been doing with incarcerated scholars in the hopes that it’s helpful for other rare books/museums folks who want to include prisons in their outreach iniatives. I have a million other thoughts about how amazing and challenging it is, but this post is just for quick outreach take-aways.
Why do this?
By now it’s no secret that my goal in life is to bring rare books (and museum artifacts in general) to people who want to learn from them but have never been given the opportunity (serving underserved populations, if you want to use field lingo). When I think about a population that is underserved in pretty much every possible way, I think of people who are incarcerated. Many current and former prisoners can’t vote, have limited access to educational resources in prison, and have trouble finding work or funding for an education once they are released. This is in addition to the fact that few prisons offer meaningful programming that discourages recidivism, even though such programs (like Common Good, or like this rehabilitation work) are effective and badly wanted by prisoners.
I just finished giving a presentation for NFAIS on building expanding audiences and empowering community members through unlikely collaborations. The audience, as well as Marcie who was the moderator/cat wrangler/problem solver, were all fantastic and I had a great time chatting with them. I wanted to offer a few highlights from the talk for folks who weren’t able to attend but who are thinking about their own outreach programs.
NB: I focused on rare books since that’s the area I work in, BUT these guidelines could be used for outreach with all sorts of artifacts across many cultural heritage institutions.
Why talk about this? Because outreach is critical for increased access and community empowerment
- Special collections historically very exclusive
- Often limited to those doing research or in academic/special library settings
- Historically excludes those without access to education and other resources
- Often we do not reach beyond these walls, meaning most potential visitors are not aware of what we have to offer.
- Physical access is also an issue (e.g. can someone get to campus? Do they need a certain ID or enrollment/employment status to use your services?)
- Even for those who have access, perceived access may be a totally different matter. Special collections often feel intimidating for the uninitiated, and concerns about whether one has access or what expectations are in a special collections environment can overshadow the desire to engage with collections and programs.
All the books laid out on the table ready to go! (Before you panic, I had everyone leave their beers on their tables before they came up)
Yesterday evening I partnered with The Homestead Atlanta and Eventide Brewing to host May’s Curiosity Club, where I did a rare books and beer pairing. It was a lot of fun, and everyone was really engaged. Like a lot of the rare book events I do, I like to talk for a little bit to give people an overview and then let them come up and look at the books and ask questions (which is always more fun than just listening to a lecture).
For the pairing, I used Eventide’s four flagship brews as the starting point. I grabbed their tasting notes, and started to think about how those might relate to rare books. One of the big things I emphasize is that the book is a technology, and one that has developed considerably over time. If we look at the book as a physical object as well as a transmitter of written knowledge, we can see that development (not only is this approach really useful, but since many patrons haven’t thought of the book as a technology before it also is a lot of fun to watch them discover a new way of thinking about books for the first time!)
Interested in seeing my work IRL (or virtually?) I have a couple events coming up this month where you can do just that:
May 17, Eventide Brewing, Atlanta: As a part of HomesteadATL and Eventide Brewing‘s Curiosity Club series, I’ll be presenting a new spin on the beer and book pairing. Using Eventide’s brews, I’ve mapped out the history of the book by matching the tasting notes of the beers to the “tasting notes” (physical attributes) of the books, and lined them up to show how books as a technology have evolved. Come have a beer, hold a book (not while holding the beer, please), and learn about book history in a new way!
You can register here and find the Facebook event here.
May 23, webinar: I’ll be presenting Not So Rare Any More: Reaching New Special Collections Audiences Through Unlikely Collaborations as a part of NFAIS’ Lunch and Learn series. This half hour talk will give a run down of my process of identifying new communities to engage with, and the process of developing programming tailored to different community interests.
Common Good classes: This month is the first time I bring rare books in to teach along with the folks at Common Good, who teach college-level courses to incarcerated scholars at a state prison. These are private classes, but I’m so excited to finally meet the scholars and use our books to support their learning, that I wanted to gush about it here!
If you haven’t heard of Common Good before, they’re doing amazing things and I am consistently impressed by their work (check out, for example, the mindblowing projects shared at this conference).
I noticed recently that a bit of dust had collected on my current projects page, so I used it as an excuse to reorganize and rewrite the whole thing. If you’re curious what I’ve been up to in the last year, make sure to go check it out!
A while back I did a zine workshop as a part of an exhibition at Pique Art Gallery in Covington, KY. I wanted to share the archived version for those who are interested in (re)watching it. Full transcript for those who prefer text will be coming soon!