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.
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.
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!
While we’re on the subject of updates, here’s a post from my other blog to tell you a bit about the book(s) I’m working on right now. I’m extra excited because both allow me to deep dive into a subject area I’m curious about, while also giving me a chance to do some food history research AND use the historic cookery books I’ve been acquiring for work!
I defended my dissertation on May 29th (the day before my birthday!), and since then it’s been quite the thrill ride over here. I’ve moved to Atlanta and started a job as Rare Books Curator at Kennesaw State University, bought a house, and am doing tons of awesome work (as well as some fun travel). I have a new book in the works (two, actually) that deal with culinary history and Colonial England, exhibits, and lots of other things that I’ll share more detail about later. For now, here’s the link to my dissertation, now that I’ve graduated and it’s gone live. I also just had an article based on my dissertation accepted in Library Quarterly, so that’s great news too! It’s crazy to think it’s been almost a year since I defended (and about 10 months since I ended my panic-inducing job search). I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store for me!
A few days ago, the Library as Incubator Project posted an interview they did with me about earlier this month. I had a lot of fun doing the interview, and it also got me to think through how my art informs my practice as a librarian (and vice versa). Check it out!
In recent weeks, the State Historical Society of Iowa has been faced with reorganization and funding cuts, which threaten to reduce access to its irreplaceable collections and to displace staff who have dedicated their careers to helping Iowans learn about their past. Plenty of folks have written about the specifics of the situation (the petition link includes links to many helpful sources to educate yourself), but what I want to focus on is my experience with SHSI, and why that experience makes me believe absolutely in the importance of keeping this organization funded and its records accessible .
I was lucky enough to work at SHSI at the start of my Master’s program, and it was one of the most valuable and enjoyable jobs I’ve had. I started volunteering there when I decided I would apply to the Library and Information Studies program, and later came on as a work-study employee after I was accepted. I bounced around to do a few different things at the Iowa City branch, including some cataloging, preservation/conservation, and special collections (one of my first assignments was working with Civil War and World War I diaries from Iowa veterans, which was challenging and lots of fun). I got to learn about some awesome Iowans through the records they left behind, and their stories are the ones I turn to again and again when I talk with others about the value of preserving history.
I’ve been talking a lot about my dissertation lately (surprise), and wanted to go ahead and stick a quick run down of what I’m doing here too. I’m very excited about the work I’m doing, and I would love to hear your feedback! I’m also happy to share my documentation and talk more about my process with anyone who is interested.
What is this project about?
I started thinking about this topic after being encouraged to look at Ernestine Rose by one of my mentors. The project has evolved over time, and while her career is still the jumping off point, I’m now focusing on her work at the Harlem Public Library in particular. She was at this library from 1920-1942. There are a handful of articles in our field that argue that Rose helped make the library into an innovative community space and an integral part of the Harlem Renaissance (e.g. Anderson, 2003; Jenkins, 1990). While she initially worked to integrate the library by hiring people of color, there are some indications that she dampened her support for the advancement and inclusion of these same folks later on in their careers (Whitmire 2007, 2014).
I’m using the documents held in several New York City repositories (New York Public Library’s 42nd Street Branch and Schomburg Center, Columbia University archives, and New York Municipal Archives) that relate to the library to describe the library, and also to test two theories (more on why that matters later). There are a couple challenges/considerations that I want to mention right off the bat. My research is very context-heavy, so it’s vital for me to describe that context and how the library fits within it, rather than describing the library as though it exists in a vacuum. Equally as important is discussing the role of other people besides Rose within the library. While my focus is on her career, I don’t want to risk overshadowing the contributions of others by only talking about her.
Why does it matter?
There are several big reasons (in my opinion) why this project is important. First of all, most of what’s out there focuses on the library’s role in the Harlem Renaissance, where became a well-known center for events and a place where authors often went to write (Anderson, 2003; Jenkins, 1990). There is not a lot of information currently about the library during the Great Depression and the beginning years of World Way II, both of which would have presumably had a big impact on the library. In addition, no one has thoroughly discussed her work and the library within the broader context of New York City, the New York Public Library system, or society as a whole throughout this 22 year period.
Additionally, no one has applied the two theoretical frameworks I’m using to historical research. The first of these is a framework I’m developing to analyze change (called, appropriately, Change in Historic Institutions). I’ve made a model of this, and plan to share the model in a more detailed post later on, but for now I’ll just focus on the broad concepts. This model focuses on identifying change, discussing whether that change is innovative or adaptive, and its impact and perceptions. Second, I’m looking at Information Worlds, which envisions actors within the variety of contexts they navigate, and uses five concepts (Information value, information behavior, social norms, social types, and boundaries) to describe those worlds and the interaction between them. Both theories are very broad and adaptable, and very context-focused, making them appropriate for this study. These are drastically oversimplified discussions of both theories, so if you have questions, I’m happy to go into further detail!
Finally, I think this work has the potential to be used by professionals in public library settings. When she was working in Harlem, Ernestine Rose had already had some experience in her career (she was about 40 when she took the job), and would have needed to draw on this experience while remaining adaptable and flexible to meet the needs of a quickly changing neighborhood. Her employees also faced discrimination from the library system, and used their own experiences to make the library a dynamic and community-oriented place. The story of Rose and the library as a whole might offer some useful ideas for modern librarians on what to do (and perhaps what not to do) in their own institutions.
References for your reading pleasure:
Anderson, S. A. (2003). “The Place to Go”: The 135th Street Branch Library and the Harlem Renaissance. Library Quarterly, 73(4): 383–421.
Jenkins, B. L. (1990). A White Librarian in Black Harlem: Study to Chronicle and Assess Ernestine Rose’s Work during the Renaissance in Harlem. Library Quarterly60, 216–231.
Whitmire, E. (2007). Breaking the Color Barrier: Regina Andrews and the New York Public Library. Libraries & the Cultural Record, 42(4), 409–421.
Whitmire, E. (2014). Regina Andrews, Harlem Renaissance Librarian. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.